Sun-ripened tomatoes, sweet onions, capers, olives and – in the leading role – fresh aubergines: for many Sicilians, caponata is a piece of home and a delicacy that is sure to send everyone rushing to the table.Jump to Recipe
Of taverns, gurnards and capons
Where does the name caponata come from? One legend mentions the taverns, which were called cauponae in Latin, as the origin. Here men met, ate some bread with garlic, olives, capers or anchovies with wine, later also small warm dishes. One such dish is reminiscent of caponata. Another story connects caponata with capone, the old Italian name for gurnard. The fish used in a stew was then replaced by aubergines in poorer households. Caponata is even sometimes associated with the traditional Ligurian Lenten dish, cappon magro (“lean capon”), which is a kind of layered salad made from lots of vegetables and fish. This could explain the pine nuts that can be found in some recipes.
Aubergine sweet-sour to ease homesickness
Caponata is one of the mainstays of Sicilian cuisine and it has even been said to alleviate the homesickness felt by emigrant Sicilians. The dish was already exported from Palermo to the USA a good 100 years ago. But it should be noted that the caponata does not exist. As so often, every region has its own special version. Among the 37 recipes, there are some with bitter cocoa, with almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, raisins or peppers and potatoes. There is also a widespread custom of sprinkling toasted breadcrumbs over the caponata before serving. The crunchy effect goes wonderfully with the sweet-sour vegetables.
- 2 aubergines
- 1 onion large red
- 500 g tomatoes ripe
- 40 g celery heart – the white stalk of the celery
- 20 olives
- 2 tbsp capers salted
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp vinegar white wine
- olive oil extra virgin
- 10 leaves basil
- 40 g pine nuts or almonds roasted
Cut the aubergines into cubes, salt them and let them stand for 30 minutes. Bring water to the boil in a pot. Place the tomatoes in the water for one minute and then peel them. Cut the tomatoes into pieces. Remove the seeds and the juice (the tomato juice would make the aubergines sticky).
Remove the stones from the olives and cut them into small pieces. Rinse the capers with water and dab dry. Cut the onion into slices and finely chop the celery. Heat some olive oil in a saucepan and first sauté the onion in it at low heat for about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and celery. After another 5 minutes, add olives, capers and possibly the pine nuts.
Squeeze the aubergine gently and dab them as dry as you can with kitchen paper. Fry in enough oil – they should literally be swimming in oil – until the pieces are golden brown. Take them out and let them drain. Add the aubergines to the remaining vegetables. Let them simmer together for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with basil, vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt.
The caponata should be left to marinate for at least 4 to 6 hours, preferably overnight, at room temperature. As an antipasto on toasted white bread, it tastes just as delicious as a side dish with fish or meat – or simply solo with a good glass of wine from Sicily.