I can’t make caponata, the Sicilian eggplant condiment, like Enza Causa-Santagata does. But I can try. This Agro Dolce Green Olive and Eggplant Caponata is my homage to Enza’s succulent version. It’s something to serve as a primo or first course or as a condiment with grilled fish or poultry. It makes a perfect topping for bruschetta, grilled bread, too.

Enza comes from Sicily but has lived here forever; she keeps our local post office operating efficiently. Her caponata captures cubes of eggplant, zucchini, onions and celery in suspension, all their flavors and texture remarkably intact. Still begging her for the secret. For my version, all it takes is one fat eggplant, green olives (or green almonds), some red peppers, celery, tomatoes and a little time.

Cooking techniques required to make this Agro Dolce Green Olive and Eggplant Caponata are few. It is the mindfulness that makes the act of preparing caponata time consuming yet relaxing. You cook each vegetable separately until lightly browned yet tender. (The same applies when making ratatouille, caponata’s French cousin.) A simple sauce made from fresh or canned tomatoes, red wine vinegar and honey brings it all together. Because I think an undertone of heat brightens this dish, I toss in a dried hot chili pepper too.

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Making the Agro Dolce Green Olive and Eggplant Caponata

Here is the mise en place, set up, for the caponata.

Agro Dolce Green Olive and Eggplant Caponata mise en place

To keep the eggplant from absorbing too much oil, you need to salt it and let it sit for about an hour before sautéing. Placing a weight on top of the cubes of salted eggplant helps extract as much moisture as possible. (Save this tip to use when making other fried eggplant dishes.)

I place a dinner plate over the cubes and weigh it down with a heavy copper pot. (A clean cast iron pan or even a brick wrapped in foil works too.)

Weighing down the eggplant

After salting, you’ll see a pool of bitter liquid that has leeched out of the eggplant. This gets discarded.

Eggplant after salting and sitting

Before frying, dry the eggplant cubes in clean paper towels. This ensures that all of the bitter juices are removed in order for the eggplant to brown.

Drying eggplant cubes

You want the eggplant to brown evenly, which is a good indicator that the eggplant is cooked through too. So don’t crowd the pan or cook the eggplant in batches. Or simply use a really wide frying pan.

Browning and cooking the eggplant

Tomato sauce binds the vegetables in the caponata, just enough to moisten the vegetables without drowning them. To get the agro dolce flavor – “sour sweet” in Italian – you need a hint of vinegar and honey.  The sauce ingredients for the cook for a short time, a little longer if you use chopped fresh tomatoes instead of canned plum tomatoes. This gives the caponata that fresh taste.

Stirring the vegetables into the sauce for caponata

Whole coriander seeds are a key flavoring but be sure to crush them before using. I smash them on my cutting board with the side of a wide chef’s knife. Or pound them in a mortar with a pestle. The first batch I photographed includes green almonds, which are available for a short season in the spring. in place of green olives. (When cooked, I’ve discovered they taste like tart artichoke hearts.) Something to consider next spring if you choose to make this.

Finished jars green almond caponata

This recipe makes a small batch, three or four 8-ounce jars. Of course you could make a larger batch. But I find this recipe makes just enough for entertaining a few people with a jar to stash in the freezer.

Please don’t omit the celery, which adds something special to the flavor and texture of the caponata. You can also add a small zucchini, cut lengthwise in half then into 1/2-inch-thick pieces. (After cooking the eggplant, add more oil to the pan as needed and cook the zucchini in batches until browned evenly in each side. Transfer to cooked zucchini to the bowl with the other vegetables. Just check the seasonings because you’ll probably want to add more vinegar, salt and honey.

Filling jars with caponata

Enza cans her caponata, but I pack it into jars then freeze them.

Sustainability Tip: We collect Bonne Maman jam jars; Charlie enjoys their apricot jam nearly every day at breakfast. The red gingham lids give a uniform look to everything in the fridge. That pleases me. Salad dressing, granola, roasted almonds, spreads, leftover dipping sauces, gravy, pickles, cooked vegetables, overnight oats all get stored in them. I use them in the pantry, the refrigerator and the freezer too.

Agro Dolce Green Olive and Eggplant Caponata

Yield: Three or four 8-ounce jars

Agro Dolce Green Olive and Eggplant Caponata

I can’t make caponata, the Sicilian eggplant condiment, like Enza Causa-Santagata does. But I can try. This Agro Dolce Green Olive and Eggplant Caponata is my homage to Enza's succulent version. It's something to serve as a primo or first course or as a condiment with grilled fish or poultry. It makes a perfect topping for bruschetta, grilled bread too.


1 eggplant cut into fat 1/2-inch cubes

1 Tablespoon salt

2 small red peppers

1 cup pitted green olives

2 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup olive oil or more as needed

1 small onion, sliced, about 1 cup

1 fat clove garlic, chopped

1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped or 1 cup canned plum tomatoes in juice

1 fresh or dried hot chili pepper such as cayenne

2 Tablespoons capers

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey or sugar

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed

Black pepper to taste

Fresh cilantro, basil or parsley , or a combination


  1. Toss the cubes of eggplant with the salt in a large bowl. Cover with a small plate weighted down with something heavy. (A copper pot or a brick wrapped in foil does the trick.) Let sit for an hour.
  2. While the eggplant rests, roast the red peppers over the burner of a gas stove or under the broiler. Turn the peppers as often as needed until their skin is evenly blackened. Place them in a paper bag or covered in a bowl and let them sit until cool enough to handle, approximately ten minutes.
  3. Peel off the blackened skin under cold running water. Cut the peppers in half, remove the stems and seeds. Cut the peppers into 1-inch-wide strips. Place them in a large bowl.
  4. Add the olives to the bowl.
  5. Heat a few tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Dry the eggplant cubes with a paper towel. Fry them in batches in the oil until browned evenly on each side and cooked through, for about 10-12 minutes. As each batch cooks, add them to the bowl with the peppers.
  6. Cook the celery until lightly browned and cooked through, for about 8-10 minutes, adding more oil as needed. Add them to the bowl with the vegetables.
  7. Add more oil as needed and cook the onions and garlic in the oil until soft and tender without browning.
  8. Add the fresh tomatoes and hot pepper, if using, and bring to a simmer. Cook stirring until the tomatoes release their juices and the mixture cooks into a moist paste. (If using canned tomatoes, cook until the mixture simmers and thickens slightly.) Add the vinegar, honey, spices and herbs. Simmer a minute. Fold in the vegetables and capers. Stir gently over low heat then correct the seasonings. Serve warm or cold with toasted bread.


Store the caponata tightly sealed in jars or other containers. It will keep for 5-7 days in the refrigerator. Or longer when frozen.