This Sicilian Eggplant Caponata Recipe is a simple appetizer that's packed with flavor. It's made with roasted eggplant and sautéed veggies simmered with salty green olives and capers, toasted pine nuts, and juicy golden raisins in a tangy tomato sauce.
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Eggplant caponata is the perfect example of using simple ingredients to create something amazing.
I mean, there really isn't anything crazy in this recipe...a few simple veggies, canned tomatoes, and a couple of mix-ins. But the result is an appetizer so flavorful that you'll be surprised that you can even get that many flavors into one dish.
This classic Italian recipe is so quick to make and will have your mouth watering every time!
What is Caponata?
Caponata is a traditional Sicilian dish made with roasted or fried eggplant tossed together with sautéed onion, celery, and tomatoes. While there are different versions of caponata, it's traditionally garnished with a combination of olives, capers, pine nuts, and raisins. It is known for its distinctively pleasant sour flavors.
Ratatouille vs. Caponata
While both are essentially warm vegetable "salads", they are made with slightly different ingredients and come from different places!
We know that caponata originated in Italy and features peppers, onions, and celery as well as more briny ingredients such as capers and olives. Ratatouille, on the other hand, is a French dish often made using other veggies such as zucchini and carrot and usually features garlic cloves.
🥗 How to Serve Caponata
Caponata is insanely flavorful but still plenty versatile! The traditional way of serving this eggplant appetizer is with a side of crusty bread.
But there are other ways to serve homemade caponata. You can dice the eggplant into smaller bites and pile it on crostini to serve it as a passed hor d'oeurve.
📖Why This Recipe Works
- Simple recipe. No crazy ingredients or preparation is required. This recipe really is so simple.
- Bold flavors. We've got savory, salty, nutty, tangy, sour, sweet...I mean, this recipe really has everything packed into one perfectly balanced dish.
- Versatile. Serve it as bruschetta, in pasta, over meat, or just inhale it by the spoonful straight out of the pan. Yes, it's that good.
Eggplant - Use any variety you like but, of course, Italian eggplants are going to be the most traditional.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil - You'll need oil to roast the eggplant and to sauté the veggies.
Veggies - We're using a blend of celery, red bell pepper, and yellow onion.
Canned Tomatoes - I use canned, whole, peeled tomatoes in puree. If you want to use fresh tomatoes you can, just add a little bit of tomato paste to add richness.
Granulated Sugar - A touch of sugar helps to offset the acidity of the tomatoes. If you don't have granulated sugar, brown sugar will work as well.
Red Wine Vinegar - Adds flavor depth and a subtle tanginess to the sauce.
Capers - Briny capers are a classic addition to authentic caponata.
Green Olives - If preferred, you can sub the green olives for black olives. Green olives are the classic though and they tend to have a saltier bite.
Pine Nuts - Preferably toasted! To toast your pine nuts, simply heat them in a skillet on the stove. Be sure to watch them carefully so as not to burn them!
Golden Raisins - Be sure to soak your raisins in hot water before adding them to the pan. This hydrates them, so they become the perfect burst of sweetness in the caponata.
Salt and Pepper - Added to taste.
Fresh Herbs - I like to use a combination of fresh parsley and lots of fresh basil on top of the caponata.
See the recipe card for exact quantities.
⏲️How to Make Caponata
This easy and delicious meal requires just 20 minutes of prep!
Step 1 - Roast the Eggplant
First, preheat the oven to 400ºF and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. This helps prevent the eggplant cubes from sticking or burning on the pan.
While the oven preheats, carefully chop the eggplant into even, 1-inch cubes and place the cubes into a colander. Be sure that all of the cubes are pretty even in size so that they roast at the same rate.
I prefer my eggplant chunkier but cutting it into smaller cubes is also very common. Lightly sprinkle with salt, then let the eggplant drain for about 20 minutes.
Do not skip this step! Salting and draining the eggplant is key to the perfect roasted texture.
A note on rinsing the eggplant after salting. Assuming you are using kosher salt and not table salt. I typically do not rinse it but if it has a lot of water on the surface I use a paper towel to blot it dry.
Once the eggplant is drained, spread it out onto the prepared baking sheet in a single layer, then roast in the oven until tender and golden brown. This can take anywhere from 20-25 minutes, but I recommend checking early, then adding time as needed.
Step 2 - Make the Sauce
Next up, the veggies! Firstly, dice the celery, onion, and red bell peppers into small pieces. Be sure they're all pretty even in size so they cook at the same rate.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add in the chopped onion, pepper, and celery and cook until soft. Anywhere from 5-7 minutes should do the trick.
Once the veggies are soft, add the canned tomatoes, puree, and all, into the pan and cook for another 5 minutes or until nice and thick.
Next, add the sugar, vinegar, pine nuts, olives, raisins, and capers, then bring the mixture to a boil. Once it's boiling, reduce the heat and allow it to cook at a gentle simmer for 10-15 minutes or until nice and thick.
Step 3 - Combine, Garnish, and Serve
Remove the roasted eggplant from the oven and stir that into the tomato sauce. Cook for 5-10 minutes to allow the eggplant to soak in some of the flavors of the sauce, then taste and season as needed.
I like to do a little bit of salt, black pepper, and sometimes red pepper flakes for a kick of spice.
Remove the skillet from the heat, let the caponata cool for 30 minutes, then garnish with fresh herbs and serve as desired.
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tip
Caponata is delicious when served warm, at room temperature, or cold! Enjoy it at whatever temperature works best for you!
Leftover caponata can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
It can also be frozen for up to 3 months, although the eggplant will have a less-than-ideal texture. To serve again, thaw in the fridge if frozen, then serve as desired.
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💭 Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! The salt draws out the excess moisture in the eggplant, which drains out when you leave it in the colander. This helps it achieve that crisp-tender texture we love so much about roasting and prevents the eggplant from being soggy in the sauce!
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Eggplant Caponata Recipe
- 1 ½ pounds eggplant cut into 1-inch cubes
- ⅓ cup olive oil divided
- 1 celery stalk diced
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 1 can (14.5 oz) whole peeled tomatoes in puree
- 1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons capers
- ½ cup green olives preferably Castlevetrano
- ¼ cup pine nuts toasted
- ¼ cup golden raisins soaked in hot water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh parsley and basil chopped
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper to prevent the eggplant from sticking to it.
- Place the cubed eggplant in a colander and lightly sprinkle with salt. Allow to drain for 20 minutes while you prep the remaining ingredients.1 ½ pounds eggplant
- On a large baking sheet, toss the diced eggplant with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with pepper. Do not salt. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until eggplant is tender and lightly browned.⅓ cup olive oil
- While the eggplant is roasting, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion, celery, and red pepper. Sauté until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add canned tomatoes and cook an additional 5 minutes until thickened.1 celery stalk, 1 red bell pepper, 1 yellow onion, 1 can (14.5 oz) whole peeled tomatoes in puree
- Add the sugar, vinegar, pine nuts, olive, raisins, and capers to the skillet. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until the mixture thickens.1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar, ⅓ cup red wine vinegar, ½ cup green olives, ¼ cup pine nuts, ¼ cup golden raisins, 3 tablespoons capers
- Stir in the roasted eggplant. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes if you like.Salt and pepper
- Remove from heat and let it cool for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve warm or at room temperature with crostini.Fresh parsley and basil