Caponata is traditionally a popular Sicilian side dish made with fried eggplant, onion, celery, olives, capers, garlic, currants and pine nuts, and cooked in a sweet and sour (agro dolce) sauce. Sometimes grilled octopus is added. I’ve travelled to Sicily a couple of times and I find the caponata sold at many cafes in Palermo excessively oily; however, the flavour is usually delicious and more-ish. Rather than pan-frying the eggplant in excess oil on the stove, I’ve sprayed the eggplant cubes with oil and roasted them in the oven. I’ve also added some colour with fresh lettuce, tomatoes and chilli.
Eggplants are either male or female. You can tell them apart by the mark on the base. If your eggplant has a round mark on the base, it’s male; if it has an elongated linear mark, it’s female. The bitterness of the fruit comes from the seeds and the males have less seeds, so males are a better choice when purchasing eggplants.
Salting eggplants to remove the bitterness is not really necessary these days as most of the varieties available have been bred for their sweeter taste. However, salting also helps to make your eggplants less absorbent, which is beneficial if you’re cooking them in oil.
gluten free | dairy free | vegan option
2 eggplants, about 600 g
2 red onions, peeled and sliced into 2 cm discs widthwise
extra virgin olive oil (spray or 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon sea salt
black pepper, freshly ground
1 teaspoon raw honey or golden castor sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 large red oak lettuce, leaves picked, washed and spun dry
1 celery, strings removed and thinly sliced (use the heart, if you can)
200 g cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 long red chilli, membrane and seeds removed, and finely diced
80 g kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
30 g baby capers
2 heaped tablespoons currants, soaked in water for 10 minutes and then drained
40 g raw almonds, finely sliced and toasted
Cut the tops off the eggplants and cut them into 2 x 2 cm cubes. Place the eggplant in a colander, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and toss. Place a plate under the colander to collect the brown juice. Leave for 30 minutes. Place the eggplant between sheets of paper towel to press dry. If you prefer, omit the salting.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place the eggplant, onion discs and garlic bulb on the baking tray (you may need to use two trays). Spray or brush the eggplant, onion and garlic with oil, season with salt and pepper, and place the tray/s in the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the onion, toss the eggplant and check to see if the garlic is soft and caramelized. If so, remove it to cool; if not, roast it a little longer. Roast vegies for 30 minutes or until the eggplant is golden and the onion has caramelised. Remove and cool.
To make the dressing, remove 3 or 4 cloves of garlic from the roasted bulb (use the rest of the bulb for other dishes — roasted garlic is handy to have prepared). Add the cloves to a clean empty jar with the honey, vinegar, mustard, oil and seasoning. Screw on the lid and shake like mad. Put aside.
Tear the lettuce leaves into bite-sized pieces and add to a large mixing bowl. Add the celery, tomatoes, chilli, olives, capers and currants, and cooled eggplant and onion discs. Toss the salad together gently then arrange in a serving bowl. Scatter the almonds on top. Best to serve the dressing on the side, so your guests can dress their salad on their plates. Delicious with charcoal grilled lamb.