The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

Monday, 7 May 2012

The secrets of Caponata

Considering the wide success that I have received every time I have made this dish for my "secret suppers" and cooking groups, I thought it was fair to share its recipe and disclose the secrets.

Caponata is a traditional Sicilian dish made with aubergines. The key is in the main ingredients (probably like for any Italian recipe), the sweet taste of aubergines as well as juiciness of tomatoes. Apparently its name comes from a fish, caupone, which was used in certain taverns. I was told it derives from the Palermo area of Capo where the famous market is held every day and where daily life in Palermo got its buzz - and also where mafia had its headquarters. Possibly both versions are true and can be combined.


We loved scooping it out the little box that our friendly seller gave us while we were wondering among the vibrant stalls of the Capo market.



This is a great dish when you have vegetarians around as the "poor version" only includes aubergines and can also be prepared in advance letting you get on with the rest of the meal. All you need is some good rustic bread to clean the plate and a glass of pungent Fiano - a dry Sicilian white wine.

You will certainly find recipes that discourage you from frying the aubergine cubes as well as advising to leave the skin on. If I were you, I wouldn't. Besides the fact that, as my great-grand-father used to say, "even a shoe sole taste better when fried", the aubergines acquire a more crunchy texture. Frying them without the skin ensures its tenderness and sweetness. It is like eating silk.

Like in many other southern Italian dishes, the contrast between sweet and sour is a common characteristic of Caponata given by the combination of raisins, capers, sugar, and vinegar.

For 6 people (as a starter)

2 large aubergines
1.5 tin of plum tomatoes
100g green pitted olives
2 tbsp salted capers (sotto sale)
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp raisins
a handful of fresh basil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 onion
2 tbsp olive oil
150ml vegetable oil

Peel and chop into cubes the aubergines. Coat them in flour and fry them in enough hot vegetable oil. Season with salt the salt - so that it is equally distributed. Drain them on kitchen paper.

Chop finely the onion and fry it gently in olive oil using a deep pan. After a few minutes, add the pine nuts, raisins, capers, and then the olives (chopped into half if you think they are quite large). Let the ingredients get combined and then add the tomatoes. Let it bubble for a few minutes and then simmer for at least 5 minutes. Season with salt and then add the fried aubergines.

Let the stew simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened up and has become slightly gloopy. Place the sugar and vinegar in a spoon and then add it to the aubergine mixture increasing slightly the heat so that the vinegar evaporates. Add some of the basil leaves - torn into pieces.

Turn the heat off and let the stew rest for half an hour before serving. At the time of serving, re-heat gently  so that it is warm and scatter the remaining basil leaves. You can prepare it even the night before if you plan to have it for lunch.

It is an unusual combination of ingredients for most foreigners but a winning one! Let me know what you think if you manage to make it.


  1. What a beautiful description - 'like eating silk'. I'm a relatively recent convert to aubergine (and I think a caponata made by a Sicilian was what converted me!), so I think I need to give this a try. Just one question - when you fry the aubergine, do you use enough oil to cover the aubergine completely, or just fry the bottoms and stir them while they're cooking?

  2. Hello Nora, glad you have been converted to aubergines, they're lovely creatures!

    When I fry them they are covered - I normally use a wok which is deep enough and roughly a quarter of the vegetable oil bottle. I push them down the oil and toss them frequently with a slotted spoon to ensure they are fried evenly. Don't forget to sprinkle some salt too to the oil.

    Do give it a go, caponata is delicious and pretty easy to make!

  3. Excellent recipe Francesca, my mother makes the same without the raisins and pine seeds..........equally delicious, especially the day after once all the juices mix well and the flavors come out all together............

  4. Love caponata - even though I don't bother to remove the skin.

  5. @Giulia - I think raisins and pine nuts add a certain taste - try it next time or I can make it for you.
    @Mette - believe me, worth it removing it! :D

  6. What a lovely recipe! Thanks Francesca. What do you serve this with? Just a slice of homemade foccacia or should you also add a green salad? (Alreaedy planning for my next dinner party!).

  7. Hello!

    I serve it with some good rustic bread. You can also have a salad although probably to be eaten before or after rather than together with the caponata. I love a Sicilian salad which goes really well with it:
    - shredded fennel
    - ribbons of courgettes
    - quarters of oranges
    - green olives
    - dressing made of olive oil, lemon, mint, salt and pepper.

    Hope your guests will enjoy it!