Authentic Sicilian Caponata recipe is a vegetarian Italian appetizer, an easy recipe for a cold starter or a typical Sicilian side dish, made mainly with eggplant, celery, capers, olives, tomato passata (in many recipes you can find tomato concentrate) and finally vinegar and sugar, to give this Sicilian dish the typical sweet and sour taste.
These ingredients, already common to other typical Sicilian recipes, such as Pasta alla Norma and eggplant parmigiana, create a mix of aromas, colors and flavors that recalls the suggestions of this beautiful island.
In Sicily, from province to province but even from family to family, everyone has his perfect recipe of caponata: with or without bell peppers, with or without raisins, with or without tomato concentrate … just move a few kilometers in Sicily to discover a caponata always different (for variations of caponata recipe see below). However, all the recipes have in common the use of eggplant and sweet and sour seasoning, which gives the vegetables a unique flavor.
How to Make Authentic Sicilian Caponata Recipe
- 1 kg (2.2 lb) of eggplants (about 3 large)
- 1 large white onion (about 150 g / 5 oz)
- 300 g (10 oz) of celery ribs
- 100 g (3.5 oz) of salted capers
- 200 g (7 oz) of green pitted olives
- 50 g (1,7 oz) of pine nuts
- 150 ml of tomato passata
- 300 g (10 oz) of oil for frying
- 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 60 g (2 oz) of white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- coarse salt
- fine salt and pepper
Step 1) – First of all get ready with all the ingredients. So cut the eggplats into small cubes and place them in a colander. Sprinkle a handful of coarse salt and let it drain for about 1 hour. In this way the eggplants will lose their water which gives them a slightly bitter taste. Then clean the onion and slice it finely.
Step 2) – With a sharp knife, cut the celery into cubes, put it in a saucepan with boiling water (with a little salt) and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Step 3) – Desalt the capers. We are sure that you have chosen excellent quality capers, as good as the ones we suggest here. Wash them, to remove the salt, in plenty of cold water, dry and set aside.
Step 4) – Toast the pine nuts for a few minutes in a pan. Meanwhile, make the sweet and sour sauce: in a bowl mix vinegar with sugar. Set both aside.
Step 5) – Now it’s time to cook the eggplants. Rinse them with plenty of cold water. Then dry using a kitchen towel.
Step 6) – Put the frying oil in a high rim frying pan and heat it, then add a few eggplants at a time and fry them for a few minutes. Once browned, drain with a skimmer slotted spoon and lay them on a tray lined with absorbent paper to remove excess oil, then set aside.
Step 7) – Now that ingredients are all ready we start cooking the authentic Sicilian caponata. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a large saucepan, heat it and then add the onion. Sauté until the onion is soft and golden, then add the celery.
Step 8) – Stir and cook for a few minutes then add capers and olives
Step 9) – Now add pine nuts and tomato passata (made with our recipe or excellent and ready here)
Step 10) – Stir, cover with the lid and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. After this time, add a pinch of salt (if necessary) then add the sweet-sour sauce. Increase the heat and stir until the vinegar scent has evaporated (about 2/3 minutes)
Step 11) – Turn off the heat and add the fried eggplants. Mix everything well; Sicilian caponata is ready! Now place the caponata in a baking dish and let it cool at room temperature (or put it in the fridge): the peculiarity of the caponata is that it must be served cold. Even better if cooked the day before and eaten the next day!
How to Store Fresh Sicilian Caponata
You can place caponata leftovers in an airtight container, then store it in the fridge where it can stay for at least a couple of days. Before serving, however, bring it back to room temperature, keeping it out of the fridge for a couple of hours.
How to Clean Eggplants for the Caponata Recipe
Care must be taken to properly clean the eggplants to have a perfect authentic sicilian caponata by following this steps:
- Wash the eggplants then dry them;
- Cut the eggplants into cubes and place them in a colander, sprinkle with salt then mix them so that they lose water and you can remove the bitter taste;
- After an hour, rinse them with cold water, let drain well, dry them and then proceed according to the recipe.
How to Serve Authentic Sicilian Caponata
Caponata can be served:
(it should be served cold, preferably at room temperature)
- As an appetizer, accompanied by bread or bruschetta
- as a side dish, with fish
- as finger food, served on croutons or in small glasses
- perfect for seasoning pasta: it can be used alone or by adding mozzarella or scamorza, for an even more strong taste.
Caponata Recipe: History and Curiosities
In Sicily the origin of the caponata recipe can be traced back to the word capone, which in the Sicilian dialect means lampuga, a fish with lean and precious meats served on aristocratic tables and seasoned in sweet and sour sauce. People, who did not have this fish or could not afford it, found that eggplants were an excellent substitute, thus giving life to the recipe for caponata.
The first time the caponata was mentioned dates back to 1709 when the Etymologicum Siculum of S. Vinci defined it as “acetarium et variis rebus minuteum conficis” or “a salad and various small cooked things”.
In 1853, the historian from Palermo Vincenzo Mortillaro, in the Sicoliano-Italian Dictionary, described it as an “appetizing delicacy” made with “fish, petronciane (eggplants) or artichokes and other seasonings, it is eaten mostly cold, or between one dish and another, or after the first hot dishes”.
Today in Sicily there are at least 36 different variations of caponata, made with the addition of various ingredients according to the area: for example in Catania they use red and yellow peppers, in Palermo it’s made with eggplants, olives, celery and tomato and in Agrigento with peppers and black olives in place of the green ones.
This one is the original recipe of the Sicilian caponata of Palermo.
Variations of Authentic Sicilian Caponata Recipe
- Caponata of Agrigento, made with eggplants, green peppers, tomatoes, onion, celery, green olives, black olives, capers, vinegar, honey, sugar, garlic, oil, chilli pepper, basil, pine nuts and dried raisins.
- Caponata of Trapani: made with eggplants, peppers, onions, ripe tomatoes, celery, green olives, capers, vinegar, sugar and toasted almonds.
- Caponata of Catania: made with eggplants, yellow peppers, red peppers, tomatoes, onion, celery, white or black olives, capers, vinegar, oil, salt and sugar.