The Best Sicilian Eggplant Caponata

Eggplant Caponata is a traditional Sicilian dish with a sweet and sour flavor known as "agrodolce" in Italian. It's a rustic eggplant salad made with olives, tomatoes, celery, pine nuts, raisins and plenty of other flavorful ingredients. This traditional eggplant caponata recipe makes a wonderful antipasto, side dish or condiment to go along with your favorite Italian meals. 

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Eggplant caponata in a gray serving bowl with a spoon.

Eggplant caponata is a staple Sicilian dish that's loved by many for its unique mix of fresh, savory, sweet, sour, briny, soft and crunchy ingredients. It's a versatile dish that can go from appetizer, to salad, to side dish to condiment.

Caponata's flavors are often described as "agrodolce" which refers to an Italian sweet and sour sauce. I like to think of it as a Sicilian version of ratatouille, but with more bold flavors. 

Traditionally, fried eggplant is used to make Sicilian eggplant caponata. But what makes my recipe unique is that I opt to bake the eggplant pieces instead. My oven fry method gets the eggplant super crispy without having slave over your stove or make a huge mess. 

II use this same method for my other favorite eggplant recipes, like this unbreaded Eggplant parmesan recipe and this Greek Moussaka recipe

Like most traditional Italian dishes, authentic caponata recipes will vary slightly with each cook. My homemade caponata includes garlic, chopped celery and salty capers, but leaves out the red bell peppers and tomato sauce. 

For more great Sicilian recipes, try my family's famous Spiedini recipe or this rustic pizza bread called Scaccia Ragusana.

Why This Recipe Works

  • Baked, not fried. Traditional caponata recipes call for frying the eggplant, but my oven fry method tastes just as good with less mess and less fuss. 
  • Use up late summer vegetables. This recipe is perfect for a late summer harvest of eggplant, tomatoes, and garden herbs. 
  • Make ahead. Caponata gets better as it sits, so it's perfect for making ahead and bringing to picnics, potlucks and parties!
A serving tray of crostini topped with caponata with pine nuts and raisins.

Ingredient Notes

  • Eggplant - You can use a standard purple globe eggplant or the light purple or white round Sicilian eggplants. I prefer to peel the eggplant but you can leave the skin on if you prefer, especially if they are young. The peel will be softer and less bitter. 
  • Tomatoes - I use fresh tomatoes when they're in season but you can substitute canned whole peeled plum tomatoes - just be sure to drain the juice. 
  • White Wine Vinegar - Use a good quality vinegar. You can substitute red wine vinegar or plain white vinegar, but avoid balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar or anything with a strong flavor. 
  • Garlic - Use as many garlic cloves as you want - there is no wrong answer! 
  • Olive Oil - It's important to use a good quality extra-virgin olive oil in order to achieve the best flavor. 
  • Green Olives - I like to use my favorite Castelvetrano olives in this Sicilian caponata, but you can use any green olive. Some cooks also like to include Kalamata olives or other 
  • black olives, so you're welcome to add them in as well.
  • Capers - Use any type of capers in brine or packed in salt. Just be sure to give them a good rinse before using, and if opting for salt packed capers, be sure to let them soak for a bit to remove some of their saltiness. 
  • Pine nuts -  If you can’t find pinenuts or don’t like them, you can skip them or try substituting them with blanched almonds or crushed walnuts. 
  • Raisins - I like golden raisins for their color but dark raisins work just as well. 
  • Fresh herbs - I add lots of fresh basil and parsley because they're pouring out of my garden during eggplant season. You can opt for one or the other if you dont have both. Fresh mint works well in caponata too. 

*Full ingredient list with quantities is in the recipe card.

Helpful Equipment

A piece of crostini topped with Sicilian caponata with pine nuts and raisins.

Step by step instructions

  1. Toss the eggplant with olive oil and spread out into an even layer on parchment-lined sheet pans. Bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes, tossing once about halfway. Transfer the browned eggplant to paper towels to drain, then sprinkle with salt.
  2. Heat olive oil, onions, and celery in a medium-large pot or high-sided skillet over medium heat. Season with salt, cooking until they just start to lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, cook for 1 minute,  then add tomato paste and water. Simmer until the water has mostly evaporated and the tomato paste starts to caramelize then add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the olives, capers, vinegar, raisins, and sugar, cooking for 15 minutes or until thickened. Stir occasionally to prevent the bottom from burning. Turn off the heat, then add the eggplant, basil, parsley, and pine nuts. Stir until everything is well combined, tasting to adjust seasoning as needed. 
  4. Let cool to room temperature and serve.

Tips for success

  • If it’s too hot to turn on the stove, you can pan fry the eggplant instead with a little bit of oil. 
  • If using large eggplant, you may want to peel them before roasting as the skins can get tough and bitter. Smaller eggplants tend to have mild-tasting and softer skins that don’t need to be peeled. 
  • While you could eat this dish warm, the flavors come out and shine when served at room temperature, and it tastes even better the next day. 
  • If you want to make your caponata spicy, add a generous pinch of red pepper flakes or some chopped long hot peppers
A tray of crostini with eggplant caponata on top and a sprig of basil.

Serving Suggestions

I can eat caponata right out of the bowl with a spoon, but it's even better with a loaf of crusty bread or smeared onto toasted bread, bruschetta or crostini. 

One of my favorite ways to enjoy this Italian dish is as an alongside another Italian dish like this Sicilian baked salmon, baked Sausage and Peppers or this crispy breaded Chicken Milanese. Or let it add Italian flavor to another main dish like crab cakes or these perfectly pan seared scallops

For an easy recipe that's perfect for a quick dinners, toss your caponata with your favorite pasta and a dollop of ricotta cheese. 

And don't forget to finish your meal with something sweet like traditional Sicilian Cannoli!

FAQ

How to store for later?

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

You can also freeze caponata to take advantage of a late summer harvest and enjoy it throughout the fall and winter. Store in freezer-safe containers or bags for up to 3 months. When ready to use, let thaw in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature to serve. 

What is caponata sauce made of?

The creamy texture of caponata is made from sauteeing tomatoes, tomato paste with vinegar, onions, celery, capers, raisins, herbs, and creamy roasted eggplant. 

What is the difference between ratatouille and caponata?

Ratatouille is French and doesn't include brined ingredients like capers and olives, while these two tangy additions are key in Italian caponata. 

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Eggplant caponata in a gray serving bowl with a spoon.
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The Best Sicilian Eggplant Caponata

Eggplant Caponata is a traditional Sicilian dish with a sweet and sour flavor known as "agrodolce" in Italian. It's a rustic eggplant salad made with olives, tomatoes, celery, pine nuts, raisins and plenty of other flavorful ingredients. This traditional eggplant caponata recipe makes a wonderful antipasto, side dish or condiment to go along with your favorite Italian meals. 
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 1 quart
Calories: 1088kcal

Ingredients

  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds eggplant cut into 1-inch cubes
  • salt to taste
  • 1 large yellow onion diced
  • 2 celery ribs thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic very thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 plum tomatoes peeled, seeded and diced (or 1 cup crushed canned tomatoes)
  • 1 cup Castelvetrano or other green olives pitted and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup capers drained and rinsed (don't skip the rinse!)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup roughly chopped basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoon roughly chopped parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts toasted until golden and cooled

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.* (see note)
  2. Toss the eggplant with ½ cup olive oil, then spread out into an even layer on the sheet pans. Bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes, tossing once about half way through to ensure even browning. In the meantime, prep the rest of your ingredients. Transfer the browned eggplant to paper towels to drain, then sprinkle with salt.
  3. Heat a medium-large pot or high-sided skillet over medium heat, then add the remaining 3 tablespoon olive oil and the onions and celery. Season with salt, then cook until just starting to lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, cook for one minute more, then add tomato paste and water. Cook until the water has mostly evaporated and the tomato baste starts to caramelize. Add the tomatoes, then simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the olives, capers, vinegar, raisins and sugar, then cook until thickened, about another 15 minutes. Be sure to give it a stir every so often to prevent the bottom from burning. Turn off the heat, then add the eggplant, basil, parsley and pine nuts. Stir until everything is well combined, then taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Let cool to room temperature, then serve.
  5. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Notes

  • If it’s too hot to turn on the stove, you can pan fry the eggplant instead with a little bit of oil. 
  • If using large eggplant, you may want to peel them before roasting as the skins can get tough and bitter. Smaller eggplants tend to have mild-tasting and softer skins that don’t need to be peeled. 
  • While you could eat this dish warm, the flavors come out and shine when served at room temperature, and it tastes even better the next day. 
  • If you want to make your caponata spicy, add a generous pinch of red pepper flakes or some chopped long hot peppers

Nutrition

Calories: 1088kcal | Carbohydrates: 166g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 47g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 14g | Monounsaturated Fat: 22g | Cholesterol: 0.4mg | Sodium: 3822mg | Potassium: 3745mg | Fiber: 42g | Sugar: 108g | Vitamin A: 2623IU | Vitamin C: 62mg | Calcium: 306mg | Iron: 9mg
4.93 from 13 votes (2 ratings without comment)

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19 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Excellent caponata recipe. I ate so much of this in Sicily last summer and was glad to find your recipe. I like that you bake the eggplant instead of frying. much much cleaner and the flavor was fantastic. we ate it with grilled swordfish and it was perfect!

  2. 5 stars
    Have made this before and it is delicious. Our eggplant is just starting to produce, so I made a small batch and put it in heated Pita 🥙 bread. So delicious!

    1. So glad, Kelsey! Thank you for your comment! Would you mind also leaving a star rating? It's super helpful!

  3. 5 stars
    Delicious recipe -- even if I didn't have fresh basil. I just added a heaping tablespoon of dried basil when I cooked the onions and celery. I served this over sliced and pan seared polenta rounds and everyone loved it! Thanks for the recipe!

    1. That's a great question. I've never tried freezing it, so I'm not sure how it would affect the texture. It does do well canned, though. If you're up for the process of sterilizing jars and all that, I say go for it!

    1. You can if you want, but I didn't find it necessary. I am not a fan of eggplant skin, but it doesn't bother me here!

  4. 5 stars
    Caporilli Caponata is a staple in our home. Sara and I are anxious to try this recipe as we are drowning in eggplant from her father’s farm!

    Peter