I first tried caponata when a classmate brought a dish of it to our writing seminar to share.
The melding of sweet and savory, perfectly tender eggplant and tangy vinegar immediately won me over. Add in the crisp of grilled bread, and oh my, I could fall in love.
I have since made caponata dozens of times—for family at Thanksgiving dinner and for new Italian friends…and everything in between—arriving at my own recipe to share.
Often referred to as an eggplant “relish” due to its being cooked in vinegar, caponata is absolutely squisita (exquisite) served as an appetizer with grilled sourdough bread. It happens to be vegan and full of veggie goodness, too!
First, you will need to assemble your ingredients:
6 Tablespoons Olive Oil (Or a bit more or less depending on your love of olive oil)
6 Cloves Garlic—chopped (Or less if you don’t care quite so much for garlic)
1 Medium Onion—chopped
1 Small Fennel Bulb—chopped
1 Large Eggplant—cut in ¾ inch cubes
1 Red Pepper—cut in ½ inch cubes
1 Can Diced Tomatoes
¼ Cup Raisins—golden or dark (or substitute other dried fruit)
¼ Cup Olives—green or black, roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons Capers (optional)
4 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar (Can also work with balsamic vinegar for a sweeter final product)
Splash Red Wine
Fresh Basil (whole or shredded)
Now, time to cook. You can serve this dish warm or cold, and it’s possibly even more delicious after sitting in the fridge for a day, so feel free to prepare hours or days ahead!
Pour yourself a glass of wine, turn on your favorite cooking music and chop your veggies in time to the beat. (I seem to go in for Nina Simone these days, but the tunes are entirely up to you.)
Heat half the olive oil in a large pan (sides should be at least an inch or two high to contain liquid) on medium-low and begin by browning your garlic.
Next, add onions and fennel and sauté several minutes (low and slow does the trick), then add the rest of your oil and brown the eggplant on medium heat (about five to 10 minutes until it begins to become tender, though it doesn’t need to be fully cooked—you’ll see why). Toss in the red pepper and cook for a couple more minutes.
(Salt can be added to taste at every stage.)
Now the rest: you can leave out the raisins, olives or capers if you like, or use them all. Canned tomatoes, vinegar, and a splash of red wine. Or two splashes…more wine will make for richer caponata; less for a lighter taste. Leave out the basil until the end.
Stir, and cook covered on medium to medium high heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then turn down the heat and allow everything to simmer uncovered for around 20 minutes, or a bit longer.
Sit back and relax, checking once and a while to see that your ingredients are getting along nicely. Enjoy your music, or your family or a bit of quiet depending on your situation. When there is very little liquid left in the pot and the caponata begins to take on the consistency of preserves, it is almost ready.
Toss in your fresh basil and salt and pepper to taste, stir, and cook for another minute or two.
Cool and serve, or save for later.
Enjoy the way the brine of olives and capers meets the sweetness of raisins, and how the bite of vinegar loves to play with the eggplant and fennel.
This recipe makes enough for six to eat as appetizers, with plenty left over for later.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Toby Israel
Editor: Catherine Monkman