Caponata is a very popular dish in the west side of the Mediterranean – specifically in Sicily and Malta (where it is known as Kapunata Maltija).
It’s a very simple dish that forms a perfect accompaniment to any food-serving occasion. The Maltese will typically eat it with Maltese bread, but many recipes will show it served on slices of toasted ciabatta, bruschetta-style.
I will either eat it with crusty white bread, a bottle of red and a few friends, or I’ll boil up some pasta (spaghetti works well) and serve it over that.
There is no one way to make caponata, and so today I’m going to show you how to put together a caponata YOUR way, because you can follow a few simple rules and pick and choose which recipe you like!
Firstly, every recipe of caponata will have exactly the same base ingredients – because caponata is essentially an aubergine (eggplant) stew with hints of salt, sweet and umami flavours. The salt is always the same: olives and capers; umami from the tomato; but the sweet changes and you can use dried fruits (typically raisins), honey or sugar.
My view is that acidic foods heavy in tomato, wine vinegar and salty flavours benefit from a balancing out with sweetness, but not too much! You can very easily ruin a whole dish by adding too much sweet. For me, it’s really a hint! So I don’t use sugar, I actually used dates as they soften and disappear in the dish!
So, here are your options – choose your ingredients and head to the instructions on how to put it together. Decide now whether you’ll cook the aubergines like a stew or fry them separately.
Aubergine (sometimes fried separately and then added back to the dish), garlic, onion, tomato, olive oil, capers, green olives, wine vinegar
Red or yellow peppers (Maltese)
basil, mint, or parsley
sugar, honey, raisins or if you want to go more East in your influence, try dates!
Pine nuts, toasted almonds
The recipe I’ve given below (and in the photo) is my version, and thus the nutrition information is based on this – but you do it your way in the safe knowledge that the nutrition won’t alter that much (depending upon how wildly off-piste you go!!)
- 1 Medium aubergine (US: egg plant), cubed
- 2 Sticks celery chopped
- 1 red pepper optional, chopped
- 1 tbsp capers
- 3 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 tbsp olive oil for frying
- 400g tinned tomatoes
- 1 tbsp wine vinegar usually red, but white is fine
- 60 g green olives chopped
- 1 onion chopped
- 50 g dates chopped, or use 1 tbsp dark brown sugar or honey
- parsley good handful, chopped
Sprinkle the aubergine cubes with salt and leave in a colander for around half an hour to draw out the juices. Then rinse.
Heat the oil in large pan and fry the onion until translucent, add the celery and garlic, and fry a little longer - until starting to caramelise.
Now add the aubergine and pepper and stir fry for a minute or two, coating everything with the onion and garlic - stirring continuously. Then add the tomatoes, reduce the heat once the tomatoes start to bubble. This is one way of doing it.
Another method: in a separate pan, fry the aubergine and pepper in a little hot oil until golden and tender. Remove, drain on paper towels and add to the tomato base.
Now add the wine vinegar and sugar/honey/fruit; stir and add the capers and olives
Turn low and place the lid over the pan and cook until the aubergine is completely tender. Taste for the right level of sweetness, salt, umami and adjust as you like. Remember, little by little....it's easy to make one taste dominate the other. You need balance for this dish. Stir in the herb too at this point.
Serve as you like: on bruschetta, over pasta, with bread, whatever takes your fancy and scatter toasted almonds or pine nuts over too (not shown in pic as we don't generally do that in Malta)
This dish is best made in advance, because time allows the flavours to become bolder and deeper. Simply reheat if you wish to eat hot, or serve room temperature on toasted crostini.
Could serve with couscous, rice or pasta. You make the rules!
Seb is a writer and blogger of food and nutrition. He holds a bachelors and a masters degree in nutrition science, and has studied sports and exercise nutrition at postgraduate level. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and believes passionately that we can all live with a little less meat. He writes for www.veggieandspice.com and www.itsaboutnutrition.com