A cast iron pan full of a tomatoey mixture of veg, with a green cloth wrapped around it's handle

Sicilian caponata

  • serves 6
  • Easy

Inspired by holidays in Sicily, this caponata makes great use of summer's fruit and vegetable glut and is an ideal meal for a summer's day, packed with sunshine flavours

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Try Rosie Birkett’s caponata recipe, then check out our caponata pasta, caponata-style healthy pizza and Italian starter recipes.

Rosie says, “For the past few years our summer holidays have been spent in Sicily, eating almond granita and lemony brioche for breakfast, soaking up the sunshine by day and feasting on fresh pasta and volcanic wine by night. We’ve loved exploring Sicily’s beaches and baroque towns, and have been drawn back repeatedly by its cuisine. While the question of whether we’ll get there this year hangs in the balance, cooking caponata – one of Sicily’s most iconic dishes – is a way for us to get a taste of the island at home.

July, being peak picnic season, is a good month to make caponata, which is – aside from being highly portable – a party of juicy summer veg and agrodolce, the sweet and sour Italian sauce. Here, it consists of tomatoes, sugar and vinegar, and cloaks chunks of oily aubergine and crunchy carrot and celery. Recipes vary across Sicily, changing with the regions and families, but the aubergine and tomato are non-negotiable. By the time you’re reading this, I’m hoping to have harvested some of my own to use.

I’ve eaten several versions in Sicily and referred to my notes on my favourite elements while developing this recipe. I also spoke to my friend, food writer Rachel Roddy, who says: “This dish grew out of resourceful cooking – it’s about that double whammy of vinegar and honey or sugar, but there are many different ways of making it.” Rachel also shared a recipe by director of the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, Fabrizia Lanza, from her book Coming Home to Sicily. I’ve used it as a blueprint for my own recipe.

Unlike Fabrizia’s, my version doesn’t advise you to deep-fry the aubergines. Instead, I roast them in olive oil, then mix them into the sauce. Once you’ve made a batch, it can happily sit in the fridge for days, improving as the ingredients meld. Those chunks of aubergine act as sponges, sucking up all the flavours.

This is what makes it perfect picnic fodder. As Rachel jokingly observes: “A friend of mine has a theory that caponata is always better after a sweaty car ride.” Lanza suggests serving it with quartered hard-boiled eggs, and I can confirm it’s a great pairing.”

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Ingredients

  • olive oil 10 tbsp
  • aubergine 1 large (about 400g), cut into 3cm pieces
  • celery 2 sticks, strings removed, thinly sliced
  • carrots 1 large or two small, sliced into 3cm pieces, then finely sliced lengthways into rectangles
  • red onion 1, halved and finely sliced
  • bay leaf 1
  • dried chilli flakes a pinch, (optional)
  • red or white wine vinegar 2 tbsp
  • tomato passata 270ml
  • caster sugar 1 tsp
  • green olives 2 tbsp, pitted
  • capers 2 tbsp, rinsed
  • toasted pine nuts 2 tbsp
  • mint leaves to garnish

Method

  • Step 1

    Heat the oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7 and boil the kettle. Pour 8 tbsp of the olive oil into a roasting tin large enough to hold the aubergine pieces in a single layer (or split the aubergine equally between two roasting tins). Put the tin into the oven to heat up for 10 minutes.

  • Step 2

    Remove the hot tin from the oven and quickly tip in the aubergine, tossing to coat in the oil and spreading out in a single layer. Season with a little sea salt and roast for 25 minutes, carefully turning the cubes halfway through, until charred and softened.

  • Step 3

    While the aubergine is roasting, pour the boiled water from the kettle into a high-sided frying pan and boil the celery and carrot for 5 minutes. Drain the veg and rinse under cold running water to stop it cooking.

  • Step 4

    Wipe the pan clean, drizzle in the remaining olive oil and return to a medium heat. Fry the onion with the bay, chilli flakes, if using, and a pinch of salt for 10 minutes until the onion has softened and is aromatic. Pour in the vinegar, stirring to coat the onion. Tip in the passata and 100ml of water, then stir in the sugar until it has dissolved. Return the celery and carrot to the pan along with the olives, capers and pine nuts, and simmer for 5 minutes. Tip the roasted aubergine into the pan and gently stir to coat it in the sauce – use a metal spoon so as not to destroy the soft aubergine.

  • Step 5

    Simmer gently in the sauce for a few more minutes, then transfer to a serving platter and leave to cool. Drizzle with some more olive oil and scatter with mint leaves before serving.

Nutritional Information

  • Kcals 252
  • Fat 22.8g
  • Saturates 3g
  • Carbs 7.5g
  • Sugars 6.8g
  • Fibre 3.9g
  • Protein 2.4g
  • Salt 0.4g
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