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Caponata alla Siciliana Recipe

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Plate of Caponata
Hisayoshi Osawa/Photodisc/Getty Images
The dish more people probably associate with Sicily than any other is caponata, a (generally) eggplanty delight that has now spread throughout the Peninsula, much in the manner of cotoletta alla milanese. As is the case with the cotoletta, which is one thing in Milano and too often something else elsewhere, much of the caponata one encounters outside of Sicily is a shadow of what it should be -- a zesty summer dish that's ideal for perking up an indolent appetite on a hot day.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour


  • 2 1/4 pounds eggplants
  • 1/2 pound green olives packed in brine, pitted
  • 6 ounces salted capers, rinsed
  • 1 1/4 pounds celery ribs
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (optional)
  • 2/3 pound onions
  • 2/3 pound tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Basil
  • 3/8 cup pine nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Salt


Continuing with the introduction, caponata is much too good to abandon after the summer and is now made year round, in an infinite variety of forms. Some are purely vegetarian, whereas what's made in Palermo can also contain fish, as you will see from the variations below.

Begin by stripping the filaments from the celery sticks, then blanch them in lightly salted water for five minutes. Drain them, cut them into bite-size pieces, sauté them in a little oil, and set them aside.

Wash the eggplant, dice them, put the pieces in a strainer, sprinkle them liberally with salt, and let them sit for several hours to draw out the bitter juices. While they're sitting, blanch, peel, seed and chop the tomatoes.

Once the eggplant has sat, rinse away the salt and pat the pieces dry. Finely slice the onion and sauté them in olive oil; once they have turned translucent add the capers, pine nuts, olives, and tomatoes. Continue cooking, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the tomatoes are done, about 15 minutes, and then remove the pot from the fire.

While the tomatoes are cooking heat a second pot of oil and fry the diced eggplant, in several batches to keep the oil from getting chilled. When the last batch is done, return the tomato pot to the fire and stir in the eggplant, together with the previously sautéed celery. Cook for several minutes over a low flame, stirring gently, then stir in the vinegar and the sugar; when the vinegar has almost completely evaporated remove the pot from the fire and let it cool.

Serve the caponata cold with a garnish of fresh basil. There will be a lot, but don't worry, because it keeps for several days in the fridge, and I find that it improves with time.

Some Variations:

Capunata Palermitana chi Purpiceddi, Palermo-Style Caponata with Fish
The ingredients listed above, plus:
  • 1 pound baby octopus (or squid), cleaned
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 artichokes, sliced into eighths and blanched
The method follows that given above, with the following variations: Flour the celery sticks, artichokes, olives and capers, and fry them. If the octopus are very small fry them whole, otherwise chop them before frying them. Drain all the fried ingredients well on absorbent paper, add them to the tomato mixture, and finish cooking as above.

Capunata Barunissa di Carni -- The Baroness of Carni's Caponata
The Noble Lady must have been given to flights of fancy, sensuous, and wealthy. To serve 8 you'll need:

All the ingredients of the preceding two versions except the octopus, and:
  • 3/4 pound swordfish filets, thinly sliced, floured and fried.
  • 1/2 pound diced lobster tail, barely blanched
  • 1/2 pound of asparagus tips (wild asparagus will be best), steamed
  • 1/4 pound shrimp, boiled until just done and shelled
  • 2 ounces bottarga (tuna roe, available from a delicatessen), grated or crumbled
  • Minced parsley
Prepare the caponata following the procedure outlined above; gently combining the swordfish filets, asparagus tips and diced lobster tail with everything else and lay the caponata out in an elegant serving dish. Garnish it with the shrimp, bottarga and minced parsley, and serve, with a dry white wine.
Related Video
How to Make Eggplant Caponata

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