Eggplant caponata is a Sicilian eggplant salad bursting with rich sweet, and sour flavors that make you think of the sunny Mediterranean.
While traditional caponata uses deep-fried eggplant, we make ours with roasted or air-fried ones resulting in an easier and healthier recipe. You can serve it as a starter on crunchy bread, a side dish, or a delicious pasta sauce.
Table of Contents
Eggplant caponata is a famous 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 cold at room temperature.
Traditionally, it’s made with deep-fried eggplant, but here we show you how to make it with roasted eggplant or air-fried eggplant to make the recipe easier, lighter, and healthier.
The eggplants are coated 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; today, we’ll show you how to make the most classic and simple version we learned in Palermo, Sicily.
Ingredients & Substitutions
Find the complete recipe with ingredients and instructions in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.
Eggplants (aubergines in the UK) are the main ingredient of caponata. Italian eggplant or globe American eggplants are best. They are large eggplants with black-purplish skin and round shapes.
Substitute zebra eggplants or any other eggplant variety.
We recommend using fresh ripe tomatoes if in season. Try vine tomatoes, plum tomatoes, or roma tomatoes.
Substitute canned tomatoes, tomato puree, or tomato passata. You can add a tablespoon of tomato paste to make a richer sauce.
We recommend extra virgin olive oil.
Substitute avocado oil or another vegetable oil.
You can use white or yellow onion.
Substitute shallot or red onion.
A rib or two of celery is an essential ingredient in this recipe.
Use green pitted olives.
Substitute black pitted olives, Kalamata olives, Gaeta olives, taggiasche olives, or any other olive variety.
You can use capers in brine or salt. If you use capers in salt, rinse them in water first.
White or brown sugar is fine.
White wine vinegar is most common when making eggplant caponata.
Substitute red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for white wine vinegar.
We recommend sea salt.
Fresh basil leaves add a pleasant aromatic flavor to the caponata.
Substitute fresh parsley for basil. Mint also works but in smaller amounts.
Pine nuts are often used in Mediterranean cuisine as a garnish or topping and are delicious on caponata.
We recommend toasting them lightly on a pan before sprinkling them on top.
Red pepper flakes
Optional, add only if you like your eggplant caponata a little spicy.
How to make eggplant caponata
Bake the eggplant
Preheat the oven to 400°F or 200°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes (1.3 cm).
Transfer them onto the baking tray and season with salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Toss, arrange on a single layer, and roast for 30 minutes or until tender and slightly charred. In the meantime, prepare the caponata sauce.
Air fry the eggplant
Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes (1.3 cm).
Transfer them to a large mixing bowl, and toss with salt, black pepper, and olive oil.
Transfer diced eggplant into the air fryer basket. As you can see from the picture, the dice CAN overlap.
Air fry at 400°F or 200°C for 12 to 15 minutes, shaking the air fryer basket every 3 to 4 minutes.
Make the caponata sauce
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add chopped onion and celery and fry gently for 5 minutes, stirring often.
In the meantime, chop the tomatoes into small dice, then add them to the pan with olives, capers, salt, and water.
Simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Now add vinegar and sugar, stir, then taste and adjust until you reach your desired balance of sweet and sour.
Once you are happy with the sweet and sour sauce, add the roasted eggplants and fresh basil leaves.
Finish cooking for about 5 minutes. Then turn the heat off and let it cool for 15 minutes before serving it with a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.
Eggplant caponata is versatile, and you can serve it as a starter, side dish, or easy dinner.
In Sicily, they often serve it at room temperature to appreciate its flavor to the fullest.
- Taste the sauce: depending on your tastes, you might want your eggplant caponata more sweet or more sour. We recommend adjusting the seasoning before adding the eggplant.
- Let it cool before serving: this is common practice with several eggplant and tomato dishes. They taste better if you let them cool down for at least 15 minutes before serving them. This way, the flavors have time to meld. Ideally, serve caponata at room temperature.
- Make ahead: this is the perfect make-ahead recipe, as it tastes better the next few days.
Caponata comes from the Sicilian word “Capone” (Lampuga in Italian and dolphinfish in English), an expensive fish.
It seems that back in the day, the Sicilian aristocracy made caponata with this fish, 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, its flavor is best if eaten at room temperature.
Yes. In Sicily, caponata is often served cold or at room temperature.
Yes. Our eggplant caponata recipe is gluten-free, provided you don’t serve it with pasta or bread.
There are over 35 variations of Sicilian caponata, depending on the local traditions. The most famous is 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.
Make ahead: You can make caponata ahead of time as its flavor gets better if you let the recipe cool down and sit in the fridge.
Refrigerator: Keep eggplant caponata in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Freezer: Let it cool down completely, then transfer it to a freezer-friendly container and freeze for up to 3 months.
Thaw in the refrigerator over several hours or in the microwave with the thawing function.
Reheat: warm it in a pan with a dash of water or microwave.
More eggplant recipes
Get more inspiration from these easy and tasty recipes:
For many more side dish ideas, check out our sides category page.
- 2½ pounds eggplants 3 medium, diced and roasted with 1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 twists black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 white onion
- 2 ribs celery
- 1½ pounds vine tomatoes chopped
- ½ cup green olives pitted
- 2 tablespoons capers
- ¾ teaspoon salt or more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup water
- 4 tablespoons vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 10 leaves basil
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts toasted, optional
- You can either oven-bake or air-fry the eggplant. Pick one method.
BAKE THE EGGPLANT
- Preheat oven to 400°F or 200°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.Cut eggplants into 1-inch cubes (1.3 cm). Transfer them onto the baking tray and season with salt, pepper, and olive oil.Arrange on a single layer, and roast for 30 minutes or until tender.
AIR FRY THE EGGPLANT
- Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes (1.3 cm).Transfer to large mixing bowl, and toss with salt, black pepper, and olive oil.Transfer diced eggplant into the air fryer basket. The dice CAN overlap.Air fry at 400°F or 200°C for 12 to 15 minutes, shaking the air fryer basket every 3 to 4 minutes.
MAKE THE CAPONATA SAUCE
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add chopped onion and celery and fry gently for 5 minutes, stirring often.
- Add chopped tomatoes, olives, capers, salt, pepper, and water.Simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Now add vinegar and sugar, stir, then taste and adjust until you reach your desired balance of sweet and sour.
- Once you are happy with the sweet and sour sauce, add the roasted eggplants and fresh basil leaves.
- Finish cooking for about 5 minutes. Then turn the heat off and let it cool for 15 minutes before serving it with a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.It's good on pasta, as a side dish, or on toasted bread.
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