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Caponata recipes: Italian Eggplant Salad

Diana De Cicco is a food editor and writer based in New York City. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies. Her passions are eating, traveling, and eating while traveling.

Chilled Italian salads

Caponata is traditionally a Sicilian-style eggplant dish that is a must during the hot summer days of Italy. Fresh eggplant combined with even fresher tomatoes and a hint of sweet and sour make this often chilled salad a delicious main course meal or a tasty topping for cooked meats and fish and crusty fresh bread. Recipes vary, so once you have the basic caponata down, create your own Italian eggplant salad. Here are some simple cooking tips and recipes for caponata.

Caponata

Cooking tips for making caponata

Caponata tip #1: Use the freshest ingredients

Because caponata ingredients are eaten in a very basic form, freshness matters. The freshest basil, eggplant and tomatoes (or quality canned tomatoes) make all the difference.

Caponata tip #2: Cook eggplant alone

To best taste the flavor of the eggplant in caponata, cook it separately first and then add it to the rest of the mixture. Because of its spongy texture, eggplant will easily take on other flavors when cooking.

Caponata tip #3: Change up the flavors

Eggplant is the typical base for caponata and lends itself to melding with other flavorful ingredients. Pine nuts, almonds, squid, shrimp, lobster, almost any fish, raisins, olives, capers, bell peppers, asparagus, carrots, zucchini, celery or artichokes all make great additions to the basic dish. Also, balancing salty and sweet flavors will make an exceptional caponata.

Caponata tip #4: Balance sour and sweet

A major flavor component of caponata is a balance of sweet and sour. Both sugar and vinegar are used to create the distinct flavors in this tasty dish. Just be sure not to make it overly sweet or too sour.

Caponata tip #5: Serve in a variety of ways

Caponata is a delicious and versatile dish. It can be eaten as an appetizer on its own or even as a main dish for lunch. The chilled salad is popularly served with grilled crusty bread slices or as a garnish on fresh cheeses like burrata. Caponata can also be served over grilled fish or meat or even grilled vegetables. It can be served warm, room temperature or chilled. And you can make up to two days in advance, which gives the salad ample time for the flavors to blend.


Caponata recipes

Classic Sicilian Caponata

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 pounds eggplant, unpeeled, diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
4 fresh plum tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons capers, drained
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions:

1. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté eggplant until very tender. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. To the same skillet, add 2 tablespoons oil, onion, garlic and tomatoes and cook until tomatoes have broken down and have released a lot of juice. Pour in vinegar and capers and place a lid over pan. Cook until tomatoes are very tender. Season with salt and pepper.

3. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add eggplant and cook until heated through. Stir in basil just before taking pan off of heat. Serve warm, room temperature or chilled.


Olive and Raisin Caponata

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1-1/2 pounds eggplant, unpeeled, diced
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 plum tomatoes, diced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, drained
1/4 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
2 teaspoons capers, drained

Directions:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté eggplant until very tender. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. Add onion, garlic, and tomatoes and cook until tomatoes have broken down and have released a lot of juice. Season with salt and pepper. Add eggplant, stirring to combine, and remove from heat.

3. Combine vinegar and sugar in a skillet over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Add raisins, olives and capers and cook until heated through. Add to eggplant mixture and stir to combine. Serve warm, room temperature or chilled.


Swordfish Caponata

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:

 10 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1-1/2 pounds eggplant, unpeeled, diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
4 fresh plum tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons capers, drained
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
3 (10-ounce) boneless, skinless, swordfish steaks, about 3/4-inch thick, diced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Directions:

1. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté eggplant until very tender. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. To the saucepan, add 2 tablespoons oil, onion, garlic, and tomatoes and cook until tomatoes have broken down and have released a lot of juice. Pour in vinegar and capers and place a lid over the pan. Cook until tomatoes are very tender. Season with salt and pepper.

3. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add eggplant and cook until heated through. Stir in basil just before taking pan off of heat. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Heat remaining oil in a skillet and cook swordfish with lemon juice and rosemary until fish is cooked through. Add swordfish to eggplant mixture and stir to combine. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.


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