Sicilian caponata, the authentic recipe

Sicilian Caponata

The Sicilian caponata is the most traditional and delicious dish of my loved island. For this reason, I decided to write a post to help you cook the original recipe of the Sicilian caponata.

What is Sicilian Caponata?

Catania caponata

Sicily’s caponata is a so called cold dish made of a sweet sour mixture of vegetables and sauce. The main vegetables you find in the dish are eggplants, in addition to celery, peppers, olives, capers and pine nuts. There are several variants of Caponata in Sicily. There is the caponata of Palermo, the Caponata of Catania (see the image), the Caponata of Trapani, the one of Agrigento and the caponata of Messina. These recipes have many ingredients in common, especially vegetables and the typical sweet sour taste that you obtain adding a pinch of sugar and vinegar to the dish. A few slight differences can be found in the presence or less of some seasonings, such as, for example, raisin and almonds, which are used in the caponata of Agrigento, or only eggplants and without pepperoni, in the caponata of Palermo. Admittedly, the true recipe of Sicilian caponata is the one with eggplants only and without pepperoni, so much that the Sicilian dish is also called eggplant caponata. But before deepening the recipe and some relevant variants of the Sicilian caponata, I want to tell its history. You can find it in the following paragraph.

Sicilian caponata history

Kalsa district - Palermo

The Sicilian caponata was prepared for the first time in the historical district of Kalsa (see the image), in Palermo. The district is in Alloro Street, a narrow road and the main alley leading to the same district. There, in 1495, Spanish veteran Francesco Abatellis ordered the construction of a palace to Carnivalari architect, because he wanted to live in the building with his wife and their offspring. The dream never came true, nor with the first wife and not either with the second wife. Abatellis palace was so turned into a convent, where nuns prepared and invented delicious dishes, such as the legendary Sicilian caponata with eggplants. This evocative palace was bombed and entirely destroyed during the Second World War and afterward restored. Today, this building, filled with the evocative memories of the past, is the seat of the Sicily’s national gallery. If you visit it in the spring or summer, at midday, you’ll smell a mesmerizing sweet sour scent coming from the windows of the ancient houses of Palermo. There, Sicilian women prepare right the famous eggplant caponata. If you want to prepare caponata without eggplants, instead, that recipe is called “peperonata”, because the main ingredients are pepperoni.

What Caponata means

dolphinfish

The origin of the name of “Caponata” is still unclear. Maybe it comes from the Greek Capto, which means” to cut”, because all of the ingredients of this dish must be cut or sliced. Another origin may derive of the Latin name Caupona, which means Tavern, because the ancient sailors usually went there, to eat a piece of bread seasoned with a sauce with capers, eggplants and oil. Another hypothesis is that Caponata derives from a fish called Capone, in Sicilian, or dolphinfish, in English (see the image). That is a fish of the Mediterranean Sea which in the past centuries was served in upper class lunches through the delicious sauce of the caponata. Over the centuries, this fish was replaced by eggplants, to let lower class taste this dish. If you visit Sicily, you can taste the ancient version of caponata with dolphinfish or the traditional dish with eggplants, also called aubergine caponata. It is hard to translate the name “caponata” in English. The unique information I have is for the famous caponata with eggplants, which in English It is translated into “Eggplants Stew”. In Sicily, instead, Caponata is also called “caponatina”, namely “little caponata” in English. The name caponatina derives from the fact that the dish has the shape of a small vegetable mush!

You can also prepare the Sicilian caponata at your home; follow the next paragraph to discover the original recipe.

How to prepare caponata recipe?

Caponata ingredients

As said above, the caponata has several local variants. To ease your understanding, I summarized and listed these local variants through a unique paragraph dedicated to eggplant caponata. The latter is a traditional dish of Palermo. To prepare other variants of caponata, you must only add or replace the main ingredients of this recipe.

 Let start with the ingredients.

Ingredients for Sicily’s’ caponata recipe with eggplants:

Six eggplants

Salt

Two onions,

Two celery hearts

Four tomatoes

200 g of green olives

Three tablespoons of salted capers

Basil

Sugar

Vinegar

Let’s prepare the Sicilian caponata

Sicilian caponata pans

To make the caponata, cut the six eggplants into cubes and put them in a large pasta colander, sprinkle them with the needed quantity of salt and let them drain for 1 hour, at least. After this, fry them in a pan with hot oil and then put them in another bowl. Then, in the cooking oil of eggplants, also fry two sliced onions. Then, add two sliced celery hearts into the pan. They must be previously scalded and cut into pieces. Also add four peeled and chopped ripe tomatoes (seeds removed), the stoned olives, cut into halves, the three tablespoons of previously rinsed capers and salt. That is the sauce to season the eggplants. Cook thi s sauce until the celery got soft, then add the eggplants and some basil leaves. Cook for ten minutes and mix frequently, adding a half tablespoon of sugar and a half glass of vinegar. Cook for a few minutes, again, and at the last, turn off the flame. Let the caponata cold and then, serve the dish. The above mentioned recipe is the one of eggplant caponata. In the original recipe, eggplants are fried, but if you suffer from bowel problems, you can use grilled eggplants, however, many original Sicily’s recipes like this have fried ingredients, because the fried foods are always more palatable. Caponata is an appetizer. If you want, you can serve it as a sauce to season other dishes, such as pasta.

You must know that there are about 30 local recipes of caponata in Sicily.

To prepare them, you must add the other ingredients to the ones I mentioned for the caponata with eggplants, namely: pepperoni, black olives, raisin, honey, garlic, toasted almonds or pine nuts to the caponata of Agrigento.

In Catania, instead, the caponata is made with eggplants, pepperoni of various colors, olives, onions, capers, vinegar, sugar and, sometimes, basil, garlic and potatoes.

In the caponata of Trapani, the ingredients are eggplants, pepperoni, olives, onions, ripe tomatoes, capers, vinegar, sugar and toasted almonds.

In Messina, the caponata is like the one from Palermo. There is also a version with artichokes. That is always a traditional dish of Palermo. In this case, artichokes replace eggplants. They must be peeled to use only the hearts; these must be half sliced and put in a bowl with water and lemon. Then, they must be roasted in a pan with oil, salt and pepper.

Caponata with tuna

There is also the caponata with anchovies, but this is not a Sicily’s recipe, but a recipe from Naples. The Sicilian caponata only contains vegetables, not fish, such as anchovies. The unique fish you can taste with the Sicilian caponata is dolphinfish, whose history has been mentioned in the early paragraphs of this article. However, nowadays, the traditional caponata with dolphinfish is replaced with swordfish or fresh tuna (see the image). To prepare the Sicilian caponata with fish, you must cut the fish in small cubes and cook it in a pan with oil, for three minutes. Then, you must add the fish to the other ingredients prepared as I explained above. If you love vegan dishes, you can eat the original Sicilian caponata with vegetables. The dish with only vegetables is indeed a vegan dish. However, due to the fact the ingredients are fried and seasoned with salt and sugar, this dish is not so healthy if you want to lose weight or if you have gastrointestinal diseases. If you haven’t health problems, I think that it is worth to taste the Sicilian caponata and its delicious variants every now and then.

How to serve the caponata

Sicilian caponata crostini

The Sicilian caponata must be served cold. After preparing it, let it cool down at room temperature and at the end, store it in the fridge for 24 hours, in order to eat it cold. This sauce can also be spread on toasted bread to taste the delicious crostini of caponata. Not freeze caponata, because, as all the Sicily’s recipes, this dish must be eaten cold, but not after several days.

However, for hygienic safety, you must heat the canned caponata in a pan. I am discussing about the caponata by Contorno Brothers, a Sicilian family from Palermo that exports delicious caponata abroad! They produce Sicilian eggplants caponata in glass bottles. These bottles are better than the ones in metal and make the dish tastier.

To enjoy a tasteful experience with Sicily’s caponata, I suggest that you match it with a suitable wine. The Sicilian caponata fits with Santa Margherita white wine, of Belice valley, a dry, fresh, yellow wine with delicate taste, green reflections and a typical scent.

And you? Have ever you prepared the Sicilian caponata at your home?

 Let me know. I’ll be happy to share your experience on my blog.

Photocredits in order of appearance:

Gaia Saviotti – Flickr

Stijn Nieuwendijk – Flickr – http://www.watatenzij.nl/index.php/2010/08/28/caponata-en-gestoofde-lamsschenkel/

Gabriella Alu’ – Flickr

Wikipedia

Lifegate.it

Louisa Hennessy – Flickr

Gaia Saviotti -Flickr

Sabores Y Testuras – Flickr

8 thoughts on “Sicilian caponata, the authentic recipe

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      It is very encouraging for me, Sylvia, hearing the opinion by a British writer like you.
      I always do my best to provide proper and comprehensive information about my loved Sicily.

  1. Deborah

    Grazie mille, Rosalba! I adore caponata — just like my Sicilian grandparents made for me as a child.

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Hi Deborah, I am very happy to know that the recipe helped you remember your Sicilian grandparents. That is also the recipe that my mother in law prepared for me when I went to see her in Catania.

  2. Giovanni

    Ottimo articolo e fedele descrizione della Caponata!!

    Se did preparerà yesterday ho enjoy today. The day after is much better!

    Thank you

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Grazie a te Giovanni per aver letto il mio articolo e per averlo apprezzato!

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