Authentic Sicilian Caponata Recipe

Anyone with any Sicilian in their ancestry is most likely familiar with caponata, a traditional Sicilian dish consisting of diced eggplant, pan-fried with a mixture of sweet and savory vegetables (like onions, olives, celery, and capers) and herbs and sauced with a sweet vinegar-based glaze. Wellness coach and recipe developer Miriam Hahn, whose father's family is from Sicily, told Mashed that she learned this recipe for authentic Sicilian caponata from her dad's mom. "She didn't speak any English, but I had fun learning from her. It is a really traditional dish in all of Italy, and although there are some variations, it always has eggplant as the main ingredient." 

Although caponata isn't, strictly speaking, a tomato-based dish, Hahn's recipe is enhanced with the sweetness of tomatoes and the depth of flavor of tomato paste. Now, learn how you can whip it up for yourself. This one is sure to be a big hit with family and friends.

Gather your ingredients for your this Sicilian caponata

For Miriam Hahn's recipe for authentic Sicilian caponata, you'll need one eggplant, which you'll dice and toss with a half teaspoon of salt and allow to drain for just a bit to reduce the eggplant's high water content. You'll also need an onion and three celery stalks, which you will dice, and three cloves of garlic, which you'll mince.

You'll be sautéing all the veggies in olive oil, so figure you'll need about three tablespoons total. In addition, you'll also need one 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, one tablespoon of tomato paste, one tablespoon of fresh oregano, 15 green olives, one tablespoon of capers, a half teaspoon of garlic powder, a half teaspoon of pepper, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, another teaspoon of salt, and fresh Italian parsley for garnish.

First, wash and prep your eggplant for this Sicilian caponata

First things first: You'll want to wash and peel the eggplant. For the peeling, Hahn recommends trimming off both ends of the eggplant, holding the eggplant vertically, and running a potato peeler from top to bottom. Then, you'll need to dice the eggplant into half-inch cubes. For this, Hahn recommends first slicing the eggplant into half-inch rounds and then slicing the rounds into cubes. 

Since you're also going to need to chop up your onion, celery, and garlic, now would be a good time to do that as well. Hahn recommends using a food chopper, which makes the process quick and easy. If you don't have a food chopper, you can simply use a sharp chef's knife. 

Because of eggplant's high water content, it requires one extra step of prep

Eggplant flesh is wonderfully porous, which means it can really soak up the delicious flavors in a good dish. But to enhance its ability to absorb other flavors, it's necessary to reduce the water content (the same way you squeeze out a sponge to help it absorb a spill). Traditionally, this is done by salting the eggplant, which draws out the water through the process of osmosis. Simply toss the eggplant cubes with a half teaspoon of salt and place in a colander in the sink for a half-hour. Then lay the cubes on paper towels or a clean dish towel and pat dry. 

Sauté the eggplant with the onion, garlic, and celery

The next step is to sauté the onions, celery, and garlic in one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a deep frying pan or skillet. Set a timer for eight minutes, and add water if the pan becomes dry during that time. Hahn points out that although some cooks prefer to add the garlic after the onions and celery have already been cooking for a bit, she prefers to start all three at the same time. "I always add them together and have never found it to be a problem. It's simpler to do it all at once, and I try and be as efficient as possible in the kitchen. I have learned many shortcuts over the years!"

When the timer goes off, transfer the onions, celery, and garlic to a plate. Put them on standby while the eggplant cooks down.

Sauté the eggplant cubes for this authentic Sicilian caponata recipe

Add the remaining oil to the same pan, and add the eggplant. Cook on medium for eight minutes. The reason Hahn wants you to sauté the eggplant separately from the onions, celery, and garlic is because it's best to cook the eggplant in a single layer. Cooking the eggplant separately simply allows them more cooking space so that a single layer is possible, and Hahn recommends using the same pan because there's no point in dirtying another when you're going to end up combining everything anyway.

Now is when all the flavors in your authentic Sicilian caponata come together

Add the onion, celery, and garlic mixture back into the pan with the eggplant. Then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, olives, capers, garlic powder, black pepper, vinegar, and another teaspoon of salt. Allow to simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. "You are just blending the flavors at this point, so no need for a high temp," Hahn explained to Mashed.

After 10 minutes, you're almost done. All that's left is to top with chopped parsley and serve. You can easily eat this dish alone, or you can pair it with rice or crusty bread. 

Authentic Sicilian Caponata Recipe
5 from 27 ratings
This traditional Sicilian dish consisting of diced eggplant, pan-fried with a mixture of sweet and savory vegetables is going to be a hit with your family.
Prep Time
5
minutes
Cook Time
20
minutes
Servings
6
servings
All of the ingredients for the authentic Sicilian caponata, cooking in a skillet
Total time: 25 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 eggplant, peeled and chopped into cubes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil, divided
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 15 green olives, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Fresh Italian parsley for garnish
Directions
  1. Wash, peel, and dice the eggplant into ½-inch cubes.
  2. Dice the onion and celery, and mince the fresh garlic.
  3. Toss the eggplant cubes with a half teaspoon of salt, and place in a colander in the sink for a half-hour. Then lay the cubes on paper towels or a clean dish towel and pat dry.
  4. Sauté the onions, celery, and garlic in one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a deep frying pan or skillet, then transfer to a plate.
  5. Add remaining oil to the pan and sauté eggplant for 8 minutes.
  6. Add the onion, celery, and garlic mixture back into the pan.
  7. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped oregano, chopped olives, capers, garlic powder, black pepper, vinegar, and another teaspoon of salt, and allow to simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
  8. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, then serve.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 128
Total Fat 7.5 g
Saturated Fat 0.7 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 15.2 g
Dietary Fiber 6.7 g
Total Sugars 8.6 g
Sodium 672.5 mg
Protein 2.8 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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