Caponata, a wonderful dish from southern Italy made with a lovely assortment of fresh vegetables, including eggplant. Serve warm or cold, Caponata is perfect as a salad or an appetizer.
I can remember the very first time I tried Caponata.
I was at EPCOT – surprising but true.
My family and I were visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and my kids wanted to ride Test Track for the fifth time that day. My husband, EJ and I craved some quiet time and also a nice glass of wine. So we let the kids go on their way and EJ and I began to stroll past the countries in the World Showcase. The music and the aroma of freshly baked pizza dough drew us to Italy where we discovered a wonderful little hideaway called Tutto Gusto. Nestled between the restaurants, Tutto Italia and Via Napoli, Tutto Gusto is an intimate little restaurant/bar that seats only 96 people. It is designed to look like an Italian wine cellar and offers an appetizer-type menu with a very nice selection of wines.
My family and I love traveling to Walt Disney World and EPCOT is one of our favorite parks. Our love for this destination began early. In fact, Walt Disney World is where my husband and I went for our honeymoon. It’s not that we love riding theme park rides. Rides are ok. They can be fun, but that’s not the reason my husband and I choose Walt Disney World as a “romantic get-away”. EPCOT, the Magic Kingdom and the Disney hotels surrounding the parks have many places to visit that are not necessarily for kids. Tutto Gusto is only one of the many secluded spots off the beaten path to enjoy.
One thing I love about the World Showcase in EPCOT is that the employees, also known as Cast Members, work in the countries they are originally from. In other words, the cast members working in Tutto Gusto are all from Italy. They belong to a program called the Disney College Program which allows students from all over the world to come to Orlando and live, work and learn at Walt Disney World. It’s a wonderful program that two of our kids have participated in. I’ve written extensively about the Disney College Program and you can find more information about it here.
I love the conversations we have with the cast members from other countries. They seem to enjoy their jobs very much and they enjoy sharing stories from their country with visitors. When we visited Tutto Gusto several years back, our server was a young man from Sicily. Since my grandfather was from Palermo and I knew a little about the area, we had much to talk about. When it came time to order, our server suggested we try the Caponata, which is type of a Sicilian salad and since my husband loves eggplant, we quickly agreed.
Caponata is basically a Sicilian eggplant salad. It’s a mixture of eggplant, onions, celery, tomatoes, olives and capers and it’s absolutely wonderful. If you like eggplant, you will love this dish. It reminds me of slightly sweet version of ratatouille.
When I returned home, I read a lot and learned what the basic ingredients were. Over time, I’ve tweaked my recipe here and there and have finally settled on what I think is the most delicious caponata there is. One thing I love about this particular recipe is that the eggplant is roasted in the oven, instead of fried or sautéed. It’s seasoned simply with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
While the eggplant is roasting, I sauté chopped onions, celery and garlic in a pan then add in kalamata olives, capers, a can of plum tomatoes, a little sugar and a splash of white wine vinegar. As the caponata simmers your kitchen begins to fill with the incredible aroma of fresh, seasoned vegetables cooking. Towards the end of the cooking process, I add in the roasted eggplant which absorbs all of the glorious flavors from the dish.
You can serve caponata warm over toasted slices of a baguette or with a sort of flatbread. I prefer to eat it cold or at room temperature. It’s lovely when paired with chicken or fish. Caponata is can be made a day in advance and kept in the fridge where the flavors will deepen further.
As for a wine pairing, I mostly enjoy reds and find that you will need a hearty wine to stand up to the deep flavors in the caponata. A Pinot Noir would be ideal.
- 2 inch small or 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1- cubes (about 6 cups total)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (plus 1 tablespoon for the pan)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 inch ribs celery, cut into 1/2- dice
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
- 1/3 cup capers, drained
- 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
- 15 ounce can whole tomatoes with juice, roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Place eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix together and spread eggplant out in an even layer.
- Place the tray in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat.
- Add the chopped onion to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add the celery and garlic and cook, stirring for another 6 minutes.
- Add the olives, capers and sugar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.
- Stir in the vinegar and tomatoes and bring to a boil, stirring often.
- Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.
- Stir in the roasted eggplant and cook for 5 minutes more.
- Remove pan from the heat and let cool. Transfer the caponata to a serving bowl. Serve immediately or refrigerate to use the next day.
Other recipe you might like…