Multiple personalities, one delicious rustic dish: Eggplant Caponata

by Terry B on July 21, 2010

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

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.

Eggplant Caponata
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.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashley July 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I’ve tried the eggplant capponata at Vetri’s new restaurant, Amis, a few weeks ago. It was one of my favorite things on the menu.

Natalie (The Sweets Life) July 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm

I LOVE eggplant and have never had it like this. I can’t wait to try–what a great recipe! Thank you!

Kalynskitchen July 21, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Sounds really delicious. I have four eggplant plants in the garden, so I’m hoping to get some eggplants soon!

Randi July 21, 2010 at 3:09 pm

This is something I would be constantly be in the fridge for, sneaking spoonfuls. Actually I don’t need to sneak. No one in my house likes eggplant but me so I can have it all to myself! Thanks for posting this.

Terry B July 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Ashley—I’ve read some great things about Amis, his new Roman trattoria. So cool that you got to eat there!

Natalie—What actually brought me over to the dark (purple) side was various Chinese eggplant dishes. Now I’m happy to explore this often maligned (or at least misunderstood) vegetable.

Fresh is best for eggplant dishes, Kalyn, and you can’t get much fresher than straight out of your garden!

Randi—What a wonderful thing when produce is deemed sneakworthy!

Wizzythestick July 21, 2010 at 11:48 pm

I thought I was the only one who thought that eggplant had to be hung drawn and quartered before eating. I’ve never had issues with it being bitter for lack of salt and I love leaving the peel on.

Carol July 22, 2010 at 11:35 am

This dish is perfect for us…we have a bumper crop of eggplant and our toms are just coming in. Plus we’re tiring of Eggplant Parmesan, the only thing I know what to do with eggplant, which uses a lot of cheese. Golden raisins, I never would have thought of golden raisins.

Our eggplant plants are from DeBaggio’s Herb Farm ( http://debaggioherbs.com/ ) in Chantilly, VA, selected for their taste and unusualness i.e. white, or long thin lavender color, etc. These plants are also milder in flavor and I always harvest them when half the size of the more traditional store sized eggplant, hence not needing the salt routine.

Carrie Oliver July 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Thank goodness I’m not the only one who skips the salting phase! We’re always looking for new ways to cook with eggplant and this looks like a great alternative. We’re not into the mush factor (unless it’s an eggplant spread); the texture of yours looks just about perfect.

I’m curious if you’ve experimented with different varieties of eggplant and found one or two to be preferable for this recipe? We’re starting to (finally) see a few options around here.

joan Nova July 22, 2010 at 9:06 pm

I make it often (really often). I like the addition of tomatoes, olives, capers and nuts. Sometimes I add zucchini, mushrooms or anchovies mashed into the oil. Sometimes I break up a sausage and include that. And best suggestion of all is that it delicious tossed with pasta.

Terry B July 22, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Wizzythestick—Depending on who you talk to, eggplants are just different now and less prone to bitterness, or it’s only really big, old eggplants that are bitter and need salting, or—even more convoluted—big, old eggplants are bitter, but salting them doesn’t help. So we just avoid old eggplants and skip the salt.

Carol—And you’re totally in sync with the cool kids with the early harvesting. Our neighborhood supermarket charges more for these so-called baby eggplants. To me, they’re more like teenager eggplants, but why quibble?

Carrie—I’m sure we’ve had some different varieties, including really tiny, speckly ones, but Marion’s the resident eggplant expert in our house, so she could tell you more about the differences. Usually we go for standard purple for regular eggplant. But probably even more often, Marion does something with Asian eggplants, such as her delicious Chinese Egg Noodles with Beef and Hot Bean Sauce.

Joan—Wow. Thank you for all the amazing variations! I can see this dish is going to make it into our regular rotation, in many iterations.

Alta July 23, 2010 at 12:53 am

Wow, this sounds so great. And I was just thinking about what to make with my eggplant. I have everything to make this – gotta make tomorrow!

Dani H July 23, 2010 at 10:01 pm

I love food. Almost all food. Except for egg foo yung, scallops, calamari and eggplant. Maybe it’s time I give eggplant another try? I truly feel eggplants, whatever the variety, are THE most beautiful vegetable (before cutting or cooking.) Thanks, Terry. This is a dish I’ll have to make at my daughter’s since she loves eggplant. But I’ll taste it.

Terry B July 24, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Thanks, Alta! Let me know how you like it.

Dani—An interesting list of dislikes. Egg foo yung is actually a guilty pleasure takeout food for me. We normally only eat what I consider legit Chinese food, having access to lots of good Chinese restaurants serving up various regional Chinese cuisines here in Chicago. Making this at your daughter’s sounds like a good plan—I hope you like it!

Jennifer @ Maple n Cornbread July 26, 2010 at 2:05 am

I love eggplant dishes like this but have never tried it with raisins!! I am going to have to try!

Jean July 26, 2010 at 8:48 pm

This recipe sounds great. I just did a Gordon Ramsay one on my site and it was pretty good. I can’t wait to make this one and compare!

Terry B July 26, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Jennifer—The raisins add a nice sweet note when you bite into them. They’re used in many Mediterranean and North African savory dishes for that very purpose.

Jean—You said your kids love Ratatouille, the movie. How did they like the dish?

Pam @ Best cookware July 27, 2010 at 3:28 am

Terry,

I generally am not fond of eggplant, except in panini and eggplant Parmesan. However, this looks yummy enough for me to check it out and actually eat it. My husband loves eggplant, his favorite fruit/vegetable so I know for sure he will love it.

Julie August 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Thanks for the recipe! Can’t wait to try it.

Leslie Ann August 21, 2010 at 3:04 am

I made this tonight for dinner and took Joan’s suggestion to toss it with pasta. It was great! Thanks for the recipe.

Carol September 5, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Like you Terry, I long ago stopped salting and draining sliced eggplant…until now. I’ve sadly discovered why you’re supposed to use the salt, weights and a colander.
‘Just harvested some very-slow to mature fruit, no doubt sluggish because of the insufferable heat we’ve been having. Sliced it, boiled it for a few minutes and assembled a very easy eggplant parmesan. Yikes! It was terrible. The skin was tough, the taste of the white eggplant that were actually more yellow this late in the season than white were the main culprit. Reminds me of when our oldest daughter was a toddler learning not to touch the stove. Only when she touched it when it was hot did her eyes light up with an “I See!” moment.

Cam July 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm

We just came from dinner where we had a pan seared Chilean sea bass with an eggplant caponata on top and sitting on a layer of mushroom confit and a pumpkin puree. It was absolutely fabulous. Ill order it again.

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