Caponata is a delicious sweet and sour eggplant antipasto that can be used in a variety of different ways.
A great dish for the summer months when fresh eggplant, peppers and tomatoes are at their best, caponata is perfect to serve as a vegan appetizer, side or even main dish.
Caponata is a very popular dish and there are plenty of recipes to be had on the internet.
Just as with ratatouille, don’t bother trying to determine which is the most authentic or “true” recipe, there are lots of variations in both ingredients and technique.
What’s sure is that you need eggplants and if you are like I once was and very suspicious of this strange vegetable, perhaps caponata will convince you how creamy and delicious eggplant can be.
Other essentials are celery, onion, tomatoes and vinegar. The rest, really, is up to you.
Red and/or green pepper, zucchini, capers, black and/or green olives, raisins and pine nuts are all your choice. Some recipes result in a thicker, stew-like dish; while others, like mine, are chunkier.
Just as with the ingredients, cooking methods are variable. Typically the eggplant should be deep fried, but it’s equally possible to roast them in the oven until creamy.
Whatever you do, don’t try to shallow fry an eggplant. It will simply suck up all the oil, inciting you to add more until you’re left with a super greasy caponata.
While some recipes will have you believe that eggplant antipasto is a quick dish you can put together in 30 minutes by throwing everything together in the pan, if you really want to appreciate the beauty of such simple ingredients, low and slow is best.
The longer the cooking time, the deeper the flavour. Likewise, caponata is always better the second day after the flavours have had time to meld.
Caponata is extremely versatile – use it to top crusty bread or pasta, as a sandwich spread or to stuff tomatoes. It’s excellent for lunch or dinner served alongside a summery cold soup like gazpacho, salmorejo or vegan vichyssoise.
- 2 eggplants, unpeeled and cut into 1.5 cm (half inch) cubes
- Olive oil, as needed to fry the vegetables and deep fry the eggplant
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 stalks of celery, sliced
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 3 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 cup black or green olives, pitted and halved
- 2 tablespoons raisins
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 4 – 6 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 - 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
- Pepper, to taste
- Fresh basil, chopped
- Soak the eggplant cubes in salt water for at least 15 minutes. Rinse with cold water and set aside.
- Heat a large pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Fry the onion for about 5 minutes until beginning to soften and turn translucent then add the celery. Continue frying, stirring occasionally, until the celery is beginning to soften – about 5 minutes. You want it to maintain some crunch so don’t over fry it. Transfer the onion and celery to a large bowl.
- Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and fry the red and green pepper for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft. Add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes until soft and fragrant. Finally add the tomatoes and fry for a further 8 – 10 minutes until they begin to break down. Transfer to the bowl with the onion and celery.
- Add enough oil to the pan to deep fry and raise heat to medium-high. You may need to fry the eggplant in two batches if it doesn’t all fit in the pan. Fry the eggplant until soft and golden brown – 5 – 8 minutes. While the eggplant fries, toast the pine nuts in a small pan over medium heat, stirring frequently.
- Add the eggplant, pine nuts and all the remaining ingredients to the bowl with the vegetables. Sugar is optional and depends on the sweetness of your tomatoes. Mix well and adjust the amount of vinegar, salt and sugar to your taste.
- Can be served hot, room temperature or cold and it tastes better the longer you leave the flavours to meld.