Caponata / by Anthony Michael Contrino

In anticipating the need to defend myself, I'm going to start off by addressing the absurd amount of oil in this recipe.  Eggplant is one of those ingredients that acts like a sponge - you need to add enough so that it sautés properly.  When you drain the eggplant, you'll be surprised as to how much of the oil get sopped up by the paper towels.  To ensure optimal drainage, place the eggplant, in a single layer, on a plate lined with 3 layers of paper towel. 

Anyways, caponata is a Sicilian dish usually served as an appetizer or as a component of an antipasto platter.  Caponata recipes vary greatly based region and family preferences.  Some are simple, with just eggplant and celery cooked in stewed tomatoes, while others may have potatoes, octopus or even lobster in them.  This is a tweaked version of my grandma's family recipe which hails from Gratteri, a mountain town 35 miles southeast of Palermo.  It relies on the addition of capers and Sicilian olives to season the sauce.  If you like things on the salty side, you may want to add a pinch of salt.

Caponata// Makes approximately 1 quart

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
  • 2 pounds eggplant, peeled, cut into 1” cubes (about 1 ½ pounds yield)
  • ¾ cup red onions, rough chopped, about ½ medium red onion
  • ½ cup celery, chopped, about 2 large stalks
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ cups crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup cracked Sicilian olives, pitted, rough chopped
  • 1 tbsp. capers in brine, drained, rough chopped
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  1. Heat ½ cup of the oil in a large stainless steel skillet, over medium high heat.
  2. Add half of the eggplant and cook, flipping often, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. If the eggplant absorbs all the oil, add a generous drizzle more.
  3. Transfer the eggplant to a paper towel lined plate; drain well.
  4. Add another ½ cup of oil and repeat with the remaining eggplant.  
  5. When you remove the second batch of eggplant, if there is not residual oil, add a couple more tablespoons to the skillet.
  6. Add the onion and celery and sauté until they begin to caramelize, about 4 minutes.
  7. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute.
  8. Add the tomatoes, reduce the flame to low, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often.
  9. Add the olives, capers and ½ cup water.
  10. Simmer an additional 15 minutes, stirring often.
  11. Add the eggplant and 1 cup of water.
  12. Simmer 15 minutes more, stirring often.
  13. Add the red wine vinegar and simmer for 5 minutes.
  14. Remove the caponata from the heat and cool for 30 minutes before transferring to a storage container.
  15. Refrigerate overnight; serve cold or at room temperature.