Sicilians are very proud of caponata because it is made with produce that grows perfectly on their island: Eggplants, tomatoes, capers, and olives. I love it because it plays on the sweet and sour flavors that are often found in Sicilian cuisine. Caponata is like tomato sauce, in that no two versions are alike. Each province, town, generation and family has its own recipe and this is my interpretation.
You might be surprised by the addition of wine, but as one Sicilian home cook told me “it adds a certain richness” and I happen to agree. I like to serve caponata as an antipasto (on its own or on crostini), as a primo (warm) or as a contorno. I also like to spoon it over grilled fish as a sauce. I hope you enjoy this recipe and come to love this dish as much as I do.
(A few notes on the ingredients: try to get smaller but firm eggplants as they have fewer seeds; and do not cut the eggplant chunks too small as they will absorb too much oil and become heavy.)
Makes: Approx 6- 8 cups
3 small Italian purple eggplants, cut into 1” chunks
1 heart of celery (stalk and leaves) cut on bias, 1/3 “ thick
2 large red peppers cut into large chunks similar to eggplant
1 large red onion cut into smaller chunks
6 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for frying if necessary
3 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted until golden brown
3/4 cup Sicilian green olives, pitted and sliced in slivers
4 whole and peeled canned tomatoes and their liquid
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup Sicilian red wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
small handful of roughly torn fresh basil
In a large sauté pan add 3 tablespoons olive oil and place on medium high heat. Once oil is heated add eggplant and sauté for 4-5 minutes until eggplant is golden on each side. Remove and place in heat-proof bowl.
in the same pan, add 2 more tablespoons of oil and then celery. Cook until celery is slightly wilted but still maintains crunch, approx 3 minutes. Remove celery and add to eggplant.
Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to pan followed by red peppers. Fry peppers until slightly browned but still intact, approx 3-4 minutes. Remove peppers and add to eggplant and celery mixture.
Add 1 tablespoon of oil and then onions. Fry onions until brown and caramelized, approx 4-5 minutes. Feel free to add a little more oil to the pan at any point in time if you feel it's getting too dry. Add onions to eggplant, celery, red pepper mixture.
While vegetables are cooling, add tomatoes, wine, raisins, sugar and vinegar to sauté pan and simmer for 7 minutes.
Pour tomato sauce over eggplant mixture. Toss in capers and pine nuts and mix all ingredients well. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Let caponata rest for 1 hour (up to 1 day in refrigerator) before serving so that all flavors meld.
To serve: drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with the roughly torn basil leaves.