Sumptuous vegetable stew that showcases creamy caramelised aubergine in a classic sweet-sour sauce. This rustic favourite can be served as a meal or a side.
Caponata is a chunky vegetable stew from Siciliy. Like most traditional dishes, there is no definitive recipe. It generally describes a thick tomato sauce containing aubergine chunks, that is flavoured with sour vinegar and a sweet ingredient like raisins or almonds. Other local ingredients like capers, olives and pine nuts may also find their way into the dish. The texture should be thick enough to scoop onto bread, and not watery in any way. It can be eaten on its own as a main dish, or served as a side with an animal protein like white fish, chicken or lamb.
Most recipes involve frying the aubergine in oil. Unless you have a deep fryer, shallow pan-frying results in the aubergine soaking up an inordinate amount of oil. My recipe for Provencal Ratatouille – a similar vegetable stew that involves pan-frying aubergine pieces – requires 200ml of olive oil. For Caponata, I prefer a lighter dish, so recommend roasting the aubergine pieces instead. But if you prefer to follow a more authentic methodology, you can pan-fry the aubergine for this recipe. Simply heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. Arrange the aubergine pieces in a single layer and cook for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown all over.
Tips & Tricks
- Peel the tomatoes – the skin has a tough texture that does not cook down smoothly into sauces
- Remove the seeds from the tomatoes – these dilute the flavour
- Cook the aubergine separately – browning over a high heat creates a caramelised exterior and creamy interior, whereas braising in liquid results in a spongy texture and bitter flavour
- Do not over-crowd the roasting tray – if the aubergine pieces are arranged in more than one layer, or placed closely together, they will steam rather than roast and brown
for the roasted aubergines:
- 2 aubergines (500g), chopped into 2.5cm pieces
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
for the stew:
- 400g fresh tomatoes (about 6)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
- 2 celery sticks, thinly sliced
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup (60ml) red wine vinegar
- 200g (1/2 can) tinned chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon capers from a jar, rinsed
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 50g raisins
- small bunch of fresh basil leaves, torn
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F.
- Peel the tomatoes. Score a small ‘x’ in the base of each tomato. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Drop in the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and cook until the skin starts to split and curl – about 30 seconds – 1 minute, depending on size. Drain, and then cover in cold water.
- Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and discard. De-seed the tomatoes by chopping in half around the equator. Then hold the over a waste bowl and gently squeeze out the seeds, using your thumb to gouge out any stubborn seeds. Finely chop the flesh.
- Roast the aubergines. Place the aubergine pieces in a large metal roasting tray. Drizzle over the olive oil, and then sprinkle over the salt. Toss until evenly coated in oil and seasoning. Arrange in a single layer on the roasting tray. Transfer to the oven and cook until soft and lightly browned – about 20 minutes.
- Fry the aromatics. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-based casserole / deep-sided saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and celery and sweat, uncovered, for 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and fry for another 2 minutes.
- Add the red wine vinegar and cook until mostly evaporated – about 3 minutes.
- Simmer the stew. Add the fresh tomatoes, tinned tomatoes, capers, pepper and salt. Stir until blended. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and is approaching a jam-like consistency.
- Add the raisins and roasted aubergine. Stir until blended, and cook for another 5 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the basil.
- Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot or cold.
Vegetable ‘spaghetti’: allow 1 courgette per person. Trim the ends, and chop into thin strips using a spiraliser or a julienne peeler.
Brown rice noodles: allow 70g per person. Leave to soak in just-boiled water for 10 minutes before draining.