The birth of caponata (recipe link) as we know it today may have begun in Sicily in the 9th century during the Arab conquests. There are many versions depending on who is making it and what is freshly available, but what makes it a caponata is the combination of eggplant, olive oil, olives or capers, tomato sauce and other vegetables cooked together to create a sweet and sour (agrodolce) dish. Sometimes it contains raisins, sometimes pine nuts, celery, carrots - even octopus. But the core ingredients are the ones that bring about the agrodolce flavor.
This version came about while I was spending a weekend with friends and wanted to do something with the extra vegetables that had been partially cooked but not used. They had been resting in the skillet for a couple of hours before I decided to turn them into a caponata. I have a strong feeling that the par-cooking of the fresh vegetables and subsequent resting phase contributed to the amazingly robust, delicious flavor of the final dish. It was all gobbled up, scooped atop round pita crackers. A favorite twist was to pair the caponata with herbed goat cheese.
Caponata is versatile, both in its list of ingredients and its uses. It can be served as a side dish, as a spread for crackers on your charcuterie board, or tossed with pasta like Cascatelle. Put it in an omelet or tuck it into your grilled cheese or sandwich. I could eat it on pasta any day of the week! In the photo below, I topped my Cacio e Pepe pasta with the caponata and put it all on a bed of the pureed cauliflower from our Spaghetti alla Lanterna copycat recipe. It was quite literally one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever made for myself.
About 3 cups
2 HOURS - 1 DAY IN ADVANCE
1 medium eggplant, skin on, cut into 1/2"-3/4" disks (~375g)
1 green zucchini, trimmed, cut in half and quartered lengthwise (~100g)
half a small red onion, ½” slice
2-3 baby bella mushroom, ¼” slice
¼ cup evoo
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¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic (jarred is more potent than fresh, use it if possible)
⅓ cup mixed, pitted Greek olives, ¼” dice
½ cup tomato puree
small handful of basil leaves, chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
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1---Heat a large skillet to medium and add olive oil. Working in a few batches, add eggplant, zucchini, onion, and mushrooms to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes until the vegetables are par-cooked. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 2 hours uncovered in the pan. Continue to the next step or store vegetables in the fridge in an airtight container overnight.
2---Chop the vegetables from step 1 into ½” - ¼” cubes. Heat a large skillet to medium-low and add half of the ¼ cup of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring so it doesn’t brown, until fragrant, about a minute. Turn heat to medium-high and add the chopped vegetables, olives, and remaining olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are fully cooked, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato puree and the chopped basil. Stir to combine and cook until the tomato sauce reduces and becomes incorporated, about 2-3 minutes. Adjust with salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Serve warm or room temperature with bread or pita chips, or use as a topping for sandwiches or pastas.