Versatile eggplant caponata, flavored with garlic, fresh tomatoes, golden raisins, red onions and parsley, makes a vegetarian meal for two, a side dish for four or an appetizer for a whole party. Recipe below.
Eggplant caponata is often referred to as Italy’s take on ratatouille. And it shares a rustic charm with that classic French stewed vegetable dish—as well as eggplant in a starring role.
But eggplant caponata boasts some real versatility when it comes to serving it. Chances are, if you’ve ever had eggplant caponata, it was served on crostini as an appetizer. But it’s also great served warm or room temperature as a side dish. Or with a nice crusty bread as a vegetarian meal. And it can even be spread on a sandwich, stuffed into a pita…
Recipes for eggplant caponata are just as impressively varied. Fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, no tomatoes… capers, no capers, pine nuts, no… well, you get the idea. Lots of recipes call for olives, but not all of them. I’m a recent convert to the tart, salty, slightly bitter taste of olives, but even the avowed olive-loving Marion agrees that they can hijack a dish with their bold flavors. I decided to skip them, but feel free to add them if you like. Some recipes call for pine nuts, another Italian favorite. I didn’t use them, but if you’re serving the dish as a vegetarian main course, the nuts would add protein.
Some of the biggest variations came in the treatment of the eggplant itself. First, there’s the whole salt/no salt issue. Many eggplant recipes advocate salting it in advance to draw out moisture and “bitter” juices; some in this camp would have you weight it under a couple of pounds of china or what-have-you, seeming to want to crush it into submission. Others say you don’t need this step, and indeed, we’ve been skipping the salting step when cooking eggplant for quite a while with great results.
Many recipes would also have you stew it into submission. So when I saw Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri advocating treating the cubed eggplant gently as you sauté it, “being careful not to break up the eggplant,” I was intrigued. When I also saw that he didn’t salt or even peel the eggplant, I knew I’d found the starting point for my recipe.
Serves 3 to 4 as a side dish
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 1-pound (or a little heftier) eggplant cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup diced, seeded plum tomatoes
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons capers
1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pour hot water over raisins in a small bowl and set aside to plump while you do your prep work. Heat a large, heavy non-stick skillet over medium-high flame. Add 1/4 cup of canola oil. When it is shimmering, add eggplant cubes and arrange in a single layer, as much as possible. Cook for about 10 minutes, gently turning occasionally, until the eggplant is browned on all sides. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan. Sauté the red onion for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add tomato and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Gently fold eggplant back into the pan with the tomato mixture, along with vinegar, raisins and capers. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Add parsley and gently stir to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature. Caponata will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a few days. Bring to room temperature before serving.