Despite what some recipes may have you believe, Caponata is not a stew. It’s more like a salad or relish, with an agrodolce(lit. sour-sweet) taste, and a variety of textures and flavors that keeps your mouth waiting in eager anticipation for the next bite.
To help retain each ingredient’s individuality, I like to cook each one separately. The pine nuts get roasted in oil to bring out their rich earthy flavor. The eggplant gets fried until golden brown on the outside and creamy on the inside. The onions are slowly fried until sweet and caramelized, and then the celery, olives and capers are added towards the end, to preserve their unique textures and flavors.
Tomatoes are another component of Caponata that tastes best when caramelized to coax out their umami. The thing is, you can save yourself a bunch of time by starting with tomato paste. Since it’s already reduced, all you need to do is add it in and saute it a bit to make it sing with flavor. A bit of brown sugar and wine vinegar thrown into the pan at the end, brings the individual components together while allowing each item to retain their own unique taste and texture.
While the care involved in treating each ingredient separately may sound like a chore, my Caponata is made in a single pan, so it’s more about logistics than labor. To that end, I’ve developed my recipe to make the best use of time and oil, which is why you can put this together in under 30 minutes.
That being said, Caponata is one of those dishes that definitely tastes better the next day, which is why I recommend you let it rest overnight before serving it. It does keep for about a week though, so if you can resist the urge to eat it all in one go, it’s a great make-ahead dish for parties. Some other ideas include using it as a topping for grilled fish, serving it with poached eggs and toast for breakfast, or sliding it in between two crusty halves of bread with some arugula for a satisfying plant-based lunch.
- Add the olive oil to a pan and heat until hot, but not smoking.
- Add the pine nuts and fry until golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the toasted pine nuts to a paper towel lined rack.
- Add the eggplant and fry, turning over several times until golden brown. Transfer the eggplant to the paper towel lined rack.
- Add the onions, and saute until they are tender and starting to brown.
Add the celery, olives, and capers and saute until the celery starts turning translucent, but still crunchy.
- Add the tomato paste and fry until shiny and fragrant.
Finish the Caponata by adding the raisins, red wine vinegar and brown sugar. Return the eggplant and pine nuts to the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste and continue to cook until the liquid has all evaporated.
- Let the Caponata cool and then refrigerate overnight. Serve the Caponata at room temperature, sprinkled with fresh chopped parsley and crusty bread.
For the eggplant, I prefer using small eggplants such as Italian, Graffiti, or Japanese because they tend to have less seeds than your average Globe eggplant. Look for them in upscale grocery stores or at a farmers market.