Caponata is a sweet & sour Sicilian dish, consisting of eggplant simmered in tomatoes with other ingredients such as olives and pine nuts. It is eaten either as antipasto (appetizer) or as contorno (side dish) and can be served warm or at room temperature. As with many traditional Italian dishes, there are a lot of different versions of Caponata. I like a slightly ‘minimalistic’ version that does not have too many ingredients.
During our trip in Sicily, we enjoyed caponata at U Sfizziusu in San Vito Lo Capo. The version I prepared was quite similar, with the exception that I did not include toasted chopped almonds on top. I omitted them because I was serving the caponata as part of the same dinner as the busiate alla trapanese, which already contained plenty of almonds.
If you like you can include additional ingredients such as capers, raisins, and celery. There are two important things for making a nice caponata. First, cut the eggplant such that each chunk of eggplant has some skin. This will help to keep the pieces of eggplant together. Second, allow the eggplant to simmer until it is cooked through and tender but not quite falling apart. Undercooked eggplant is not nice to eat, but caponata does need to have some texture to it rather than being cooked to mush.
For 6 servings
3 eggplants, about 900 grams (2 lbs)
150 grams pitted olives, about 1 cup, drained
900 grams (2 lbs) plum tomatoes
60 grams (6 Tbsp) pine nuts
2 onions, thinly sliced
extra virgin olive oil
45 grams (3 Tbsp) sugar
80 ml (1/3 cup) good quality red wine vinegar
fresh basil for garnish
Wash and dry the eggplants. Cut off both ends. Cut the eggplant into quarters lengthwise and then into 2-3 cm (1″) pieces. This way, each piece of eggplant will have some skin.
Put the eggplant into a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. Toss the eggplant, add more salt, and toss again.
Put a plate on top of the eggplant and put a heavy weight on top of the plate. Leave it like this for an hour or so to extract juices from the eggplant. This makes it easier to cook.
Sauté the onions in 2 Tbsp of olive oil over medium low heat until soft and golden, about 10 minutes.
Add the pine nuts…
…and the olives.
Sauté for a few minutes longer.
Wash and dry the tomatoes and put them in the food processor. Process until tomatoes are pureed.
Use a food mill to sieve the seeds and pieces of skin from the tomatoes.
Add the sieved tomatoes to the onion mixture. Cook over medium heat until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, pat dry the eggplant with paper towels. If you didn’t overdo it with the salt, there is no need to rinse them with fresh water.
Quickly brown the eggplant pieces in batches in olive oil in a Dutch oven over high heat.
When all eggplant has been browned, combine all of the eggplant in the Dutch oven over low heat.
Add the tomato mixture to the eggplant.
Add the sugar…
…and the vinegar.
Stir and bring to a boil. Lower the heat.
Simmer over low heat, uncovered, stirring now and then, until the eggplant has softened, 30-60 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt.
Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with fresh basil.