Sweet and sour Sicilian caponata with eggplants, bell peppers, pine-nuts, and olives

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Nothing says Italy more than this: caponata. It enshrines all the most typical tastes of Southern Italy, notably of Sicily whose scrumptiousness has conquered the whole world.

A few poor genuine ingredients- eggplants, olives, tomatoes, give life to a blast of tempting flavors.

Italian caponata

Caponata is not an ordinary side at all

Its sweet and sour taste makes this side different from any other vegetable dishes in Italy.

It takes just a little preparation to bring it to your table: creamy and embracing, its perfume will conquer your nose, its unbelievable taste will please your mouth! Choose fresh high quality products cut them into even dices and cook in the order I am going to tell you. It is a done deal!

Its history…

Caponata dates back in time in the history of Sicilian cooking tradition. Rich aristocratic families were served this dish which was composed mainly of fish along with some vegetables. Whereas peasant families used to have a poor variation composed of vegetables only, fish was too expensive for them. The latter is the dish which we have nowadays.

It is mainly eaten in summer time, when eggplants are ripe. Sicilian caponata is quite easy to make-you will take the genuine taste of Sicily to your table.

Sweet and sour Sicilian caponata with eggplants, bell peppers, pine-nuts, and olives
Sweet and sour Sicilian caponata with eggplants, bell peppers, pine-nuts, and olives

What’s caponata?

I know, I am about to get into hot water as I have found plenty of different variations of this recipe. A lot of comments are proliferating: “this is the genuine caponata…”, or “the genuine caponata is…”. Does it want basil or mint? Does it want potatoes or bell peppers? Well, a true mess! Making a mistake is definitely super easy! Actually, there are 36 registered recipes of the caponata. So, everyone is right!

As all the Italian traditional dishes, every family have got their own perfect recipe! Anyway, its sweet and sour flavor gives the dish a really peculiar taste.

Is caponata the same as ratatouille?

Caponata and ratatouille are similar, but they are not the same. The former is typically Italian, the latter come from France: they are often confused with each other. They are composed of veggies, such as eggplants, tomatoes, onions, and they are similarly cooked in olive oil. Vinegar, olive and cappers give caponata its unique sweet and sour flavor which makes the difference with ratatouille.

A thousand variations, here are the most common

Let’s start from the Agrigento recipe where caponata is made with eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, celery, green olives, black olives, capers, vinegar, honey, sugar, garlic, oil, chili flakes, basil, pine-nuts or almonds, and raisins.

In Trapani, caponata is cooked with eggplants, bell peppers, ripe tomatoes, onions, olives, capers, vinegar, sugar, toasted almonds, and raisins. Whereas in Catania they make it with eggplants, bell peppers of several colors, olives, onions, capers, vinegar, sugar and, sometimes, basil, garlic and potatoes.

Messina variation differs from the Palermo ones, because it wants peeled plum tomatoes instead of tomato puree or paste.

I am going to write all the recipes I know- the last one is the tastiest. Keep in mind: prepare your caponata in a good time: you should cook it the day before, so all the flavors will mix up! An ultimate success! Everybody will appreciate it! Thunderous applause.

italian caponata

How can you eat caponata?

It is a side which may be paired with any dishes: meat, fish, eggs, cheese. It can have a thousand combinations: for instance, it makes a perfect stuffing for filling sandwiches, flat bread, and friselle (I’ll tell you about them in a short time), or a tempting topping for pizza or toasts. And more… try caponata along with drained tuna to season pasta…a genuinely delicious main course.

One and thousand toothsome recipes

Some ingredients are essential, other ones vary locally.

Eggplants, celery, onion, green olives, and desalted capers, and a sweet sour taste: vinegar and sugar (which can be replaced with aromatic sweet honey such as aromatic flower one- to be honest I don’t know if you can’t find it outside Italy). If you want to make it even sweeter, add two or three spoonfuls of raisins you have soaked in warm water.

The recipe wants pine-nuts, but they may also be replaced with sweet almonds (in Sicily, they are wonderfully toothsome).

Basil or mint provide the aromatic scent.

Do you want bell peppers? Of course! Both red or other colors. Only green olives? Definitely not! You can opt for black one too, but don’t use toasted ones (they will give the caponata a too strong taste).

7 essential steps for your perfect caponata

Some tasty vegetables make a genuine side, but they don’t make caponata, definitely! You have to know a few fundamental features to prepare a perfect caponata you would eat in Italy, in that nice small restaurant by the sea, pampered by the sound of the waves.

  1. Eggplants must be fried, you can’t sauté them! This side doesn’t fit a low calorie meal, but you may cut down on calories if you dry them well with kitchen paper;
  2. Sweet sour taste can’t miss: use vinegar from white or red wine and sugar or honey;
  3. A lot of recipes want bell peppers! If you like them, opt for two one red and one yellow;
  4. You should cook the celery, otherwise its taste may prevail on all the others. Furthermore, it gets softer and more delicate;
  5. Grated dark chocolate give caponata a definitely peculiar taste: give it a try!
  6. Cut the olives into halves or small dices, leave the capers in one piece;
  7. Don’t spoil the vegetables, they must keep their texture: stir them with a wooden spoon while cooking. Be delicate: it is fundamental.

Sweet and sour Sicilian caponata with eggplants, bell peppers, pine-nuts, and olives

Caponata is a toothsome vegetarian side dish which comes from the Mediterranean tradition; a few simple ingredients are combined in a well balanced whole. 
It takes a little patience and time: cut the vegetables into even dices, cook them very slowly to combine all their taste. Enjoy it on a slice of toasted bread, our with a fish course. Simple delicious!  
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Keyword caponata, sicilian caponata
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 kg dark eggplants 
  • 1 big onion
  • 400 gr celery
  • 30 gr pine-nuts  (or peeled toasted almonds)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 300 gr compact very ripe tomatoes (for sauce) 
  • 80 gr green olives
  • 50 gr salt-cured capers
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
  • 5-6 basil leaves or fresh mint
  • 1 full tbsp sugar (or 2 tbsp of sweet honey as such acacia, or thousand flower, or orange flower honey)
  • 2 tbsp high quality vinegar from white wine
  • olive oil to fry (you may also use peanut oil)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Extra: a tsp of grated dark chocolate; add it at the end of the cooking 
  • Extra: a clove of garlic to add when you sweat the onion 

Instructions

  • Wash the eggplants, remove the stem and the leaves, dice but don’t peel them; 
  • Place the dices into a strainer or directly into the kitchen sink; 
  • Generously sprinkle with salt, and allow to sit for 1 hour; 
  • Wash, peel and cut the celery into small dices (about half centimeter); 
  • Scold the celery in boiling water for 2 minutes, drain it still crisp and save the water as you will need it for the tomatoes; 
  • Bring the water to a boil again, scold the tomatoes for a few seconds and rinse them under cold running water; peel the tomatoes, discard the seeds and cut them into coarse strips; 
  • Toast the pine-nuts in a nonstick pan for a few minutes: don’t scorch them; 
  • Half and pit the olives;
  • Sweat the onion in a large hot skillet with two tbsp of oil; 
  • When the onion gets golden, add the tomatoes and the tomato paste; cook over medium heat without lid for about 10 minutes, 
  • Season with salt and pepper and add the celery, the olives and the capers (rinse away all the salt before using them); 
  • Cook for about 3-4 minutes;
  • Dissolve the sugar into the vinegar. Stir well and pour into the vegetables;
  • Let simmer until reduced;
  • Cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes until all the flavors are well combined and the sauce gets quite smooth and thick; 
  • Rinse off the salt from the eggplants in cold running water; 
  • Pat dry with paper towel; 
  • Fry the eggplant dices in plenty of super hot extra virgin olive oil in two or three times; 
  • When they get golden, drain them with a skimmer and place the dices onto a tray lined with paper towel to remove the excess of oil; 
  • When you have fried all the eggplants, add them to the other vegetables; stew over low heat for 5 minutes; 
  • Add the toasted pine-nuts;
  • Wash and add the basil leaves; 
  • Stir well and cook for a few more minutes to develop more flavor; 
  • Garnish with some basil leaves and abundant pine-nuts; enjoy your caponata. 

How can you keep caponata?

Caponata is best enjoyed at room temperature, sprinkled with chopped basil. It keeps fresh up to 2 or 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Yet, it gets even tastier! Take it out of the fridge at least one hour before serving.

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