Caponata is an Italian eggplant salad with a delicious sweet and sour flavor. We make it with roasted eggplant (instead of deep-fried) in less than 45 minutes.
Serve it as a starter, side dish, or a complete meal on pasta or crunchy bread. Try it, and let us know what you think.
Check out our best vegetable sides recipe collection!
Caponata is a traditional Sicilian dish usually served as a starter or a side dish. In essence, caponata is an eggplant (aubergine) salad or a quick eggplant stew that you can eat warm or at room temperature.
It's made with deep-fried eggplant (here, we make it with roasted eggplant or air-fried eggplant) to keep it light and healthy.
We then coat the eggplants in a rich sauce made with tomatoes, celery, onion, olives, capers, and a touch of vinegar and sugar, to give it its distinctive sweet and sour taste.
There are close to 40 different variations of eggplant caponata recipes in Italy (see the "variations" chapter below).
But today, I'll show you how to make the most classic and simple version we learned to make in Palermo, Sicily.
- Eggplants: the main ingredient of caponata. Globe American eggplants or Italian eggplants are best. They are black, round ones.
- Tomatoes: you can use fresh ripe tomatoes like in this recipe or canned tomatoes, chopped, whole, or even tomato passata. To make this dish richer, add a tablespoon of tomato paste.
- Olive oil, onion, and celery: are used for the flavor base of the dish.
- Olives: I prefer to use pitted olives. Green olives are more traditional, but black olives are good too.
- Capers: they are essential to give that tangy, slightly sour taste. You can use either caper in brine or salt. If you use capers in salt, rinse them before use.
- Sugar + vinegar: to give the distinct caponata sweet and sour taste. White wine vinegar and plain sugar are generally used in the traditional recipe to add sour flavors. However, you can use other types of vinegar or sugar.
- Salt: based on your taste and diet requirements, so feel free to deviate from my recipe. Optionally you can also add black pepper.
- Basil or parsley: fresh herbs are key ingredients in Italian cooking. Add them at the end for a pleasant, herby aroma. Basil is most traditional in caponata, but you can also use flat-leaf parsley or fresh mint.
- Pine Nuts: these are optional. I like to add some on top before serving this dish.
- Red pepper flakes: also optional; if you like a spicy caponata, you can add a pinch.
Bake the eggplant
Preheat the oven to 350F or 180C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
First, cut the eggplant into one-inch cubes. Then, cut them into slices on the long side, sticks, and dice.
Transfer onto the baking tray and season with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss and bake for 30 minutes or until soft. In the meantime, prepare the caponata sauce.
Make the caponata sauce
Every respectable Italian sauce starts with some soffrito, which in this case is diced celery and onion fried in oil.
So, chop the onion and the celery, not too finely, including the celery leaves.
To a large skillet or pan, add some olive oil, the chopped onion, and the celery, and fry on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, adding a little water if necessary.
NB: if you are on an oil-free diet, you can use water to "fry" the onion and the celery.
In the meantime, chop the tomatoes into small chunks. They don't have to be perfect. I like fresh tomatoes when in season, but canned tomatoes are also suitable for this recipe.
Add the chopped tomatoes - or the canned tomatoes - to the skillet with the onion.
Also, add olives, capers, salt, and ½ cup of water. Stir it and let simmer for about 15 minutes.
Now add vinegar and sugar, stir, then taste and adjust. The sauce should be sweet and sour but very balanced. You can adjust based on your preferences by adding more sugar or vinegar.
Once you are happy with the sauce, add the baked eggplants, which should be perfectly cooked by now. Also, add some fresh basil.
Stir well in the tomato sauce and finish cooking for about 5 minutes. Then turn the heat off and sit for at least 15 minutes, but better an hour or more, before serving it with toasted pine nuts.
- Eat as a starter: serve it on bruschetta if you like a crunch, or with this easy rosemary focaccia or flatbread pizza. Try crumbling some of our homemade vegan ricotta on top. It's so good!
- Eat as a side dish: on its own or with our oven-baked chickpea socca.
- Eat as a meal: but add a little protein with this 15-min fried tofu. Serve the caponata in a large bowl with pasta, rice, couscous, or Italian flatbread. It's healthy and wonderfully wholesome.
Also, this is a perfect make-ahead dish as its flavor improves a few hours after it's cooked.
In Sicily, they often serve it at room temperature to appreciate its flavor to the fullest.
If you're like us and can't get enough of eggplant, check out our favorite eggplant recipes, which will cater to vegans and non-vegans.
- Taste the sauce: depending on your tastes, you might want your caponata a little more sweet or a little sourer. As a tip, adjusting the seasoning before adding the eggplant is much easier. So to ensure your caponata sauce has the perfect balance of sweet and sour, taste it before adding the eggplant.
- Let it rest before serving: this is common practice with several eggplant and tomato dishes. They taste better if you let them sit and cool down for at least 15 minutes before serving them. Ideally, serve caponata at room temperature.
- Make ahead: this is the perfect make-ahead recipe, as it tastes better the next day or two. We like to always make a double portion and store it in the refrigerator for a few days as meal prep for the week.
Caponata comes from the Sicilian word "Capone" (Lampuga in Italian and dolphinfish in English), an expensive fish.
It seems that back in the days, the Sicilian aristocracy would make caponata with this fish and not with eggplant. Hence caponata.
But because most people couldn't afford dolphinfish, they started replacing the fish with eggplant, which is widely available and affordable in Sicily.
Eggplant caponata can be eaten warm or at room temperature. However, it's best not to eat very hot or cold caponata, as the flavor will be less pronounced that way.
Yes. Our eggplant caponata recipe is gluten-free, provided you don't serve it with pasta or crusty bread.
There are over 35 variations of Sicilian caponata, depending on the local traditions. The most famous are caponata from:
- Palermo: like the one I made above, except that the eggplants are deep-fried in large chunks, they add Sicilian pitted and crushed olives and tomato passata rather than fresh tomatoes.
- Agrigento: in addition to the classic recipe, there are raisins, almonds, honey, garlic, and sweet Italian peppers, sometimes called pepperoncini in the USA. They are very similar to Jalapeńo.
- Trapani: in addition to the classic recipe are red bell peppers and toasted almonds.
- Catania: there is usually more aubergine and tomatoes, with fresh basil and pinenuts.
- Messina: use fresh tomatoes instead of tomato passata.
More eggplant recipes
If you love cooking with eggplant, get more inspiration for tasty dinners and lunches:
- Breaded eggplant with a crunchy outside and tender inside
- Eggplant salad with roasted eggplant and fresh veggies
- Stuffed eggplant with tomatoes and melted cheese
- Roasted eggplants topped with crunchy bread crumbs
- Eggplant pizza with marinara sauce and mozzarella
- Grilled eggplant with Italian marinade
- Pasta alla Norma with a hearty tomato sauce
- Eggplant dip with fresh lemon and tahini
- Italian caponata with olives, capers, and roasted eggplant
Or any of our best 35 eggplant recipes, including dinners, lunches, and snacks.
We are big fans of easy veggie-packed meals! It's a great way to get your vitamins and feel less guilty about eating dessert. Here are some of our favorite healthy meals:
- Italian bean stew
- Tofu meatballs in marinara sauce
- One-pot chickpea stew
- Tuscan bean soup
- Easy rice salad
- Couscous with vegetables
- Stuffed bell peppers
- Tofu Cacciatore
What are your favorite ways to get in more veggies? We'd love to hear. So let us know in the comments below!
Store caponata in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
You can also freeze it; just put it in a container suitable for freezing—Thaw in the microwave or the refrigerator.
Vegan Eggplant Recipes
- 2.5 ounces eggplant (3 medium, black)
- 18 ounces tomatoes (ripe Romas, cherry, or canned)
- 1 large onion
- 2 stalks celery
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup green olives (pitted)
- 2 tablespoons capers
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 twists black pepper
- 4 tablespoons vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 10 leaves basil
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted, optional)
- Preheat the oven to 360F (180C). Dice the eggplant. Add it to a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Season with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt and 3 twists of pepper. Bake for 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, chop onion and celery and add them to a pan with 2 tablespoon of olive oil. Fry gently for 5 minutes. Add ⅓ cup of water if the pan is too dry.
- If you use fresh tomatoes then cut them in small dice. Add tomatoes (fresh or canned) to pan. Add ½ teaspoon of salt, olives, capers, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, till the tomatoes are soft. Note: Add ½ cup water if pan gets too dry. This depends on water content of tomatoes.
- Add sugar and vinegar, stir, then taste the sauce and adjust for salt, sugar, or vinegar if necessary.
- Add baked eggplants, fresh basil, stir, finish cooking for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat off, let rest for at least 15 minutes. Serve as a starter, side dish, or main dish on pasta. You can top the caponata with toasted pine nuts and more fresh basil.
- Caponata can be prepared in advance, stored in the fridge for up to 5 days, and served at room temperature or warm.