Caponata is a sweet-and-sour eggplant relish and one of Sicily’s most famous dishes.
It’s typically spooned onto crusty bread as an appetizer, but caponata also makes a wonderful pasta sauce.
Agrodolce (literally “sour-sweet”) preparations are popular all over the island of Sicily. This technique of mixing vinegar into dishes sweetened with ingredients like tomatoes and raisins is a lesson learned centuries ago from the Arabs who settled in the region.
Caponata is part of this long-standing Arab-Sicilian cuisine.
Traditionally, making caponata begins by frying cubes of eggplant in oil, but I prefer roasting them instead. This uses less oil and gives the eggplant lovely charred flavor.
Roast some red onion along with the eggplant to start building the “sweet” side of this sweet-sour dish.
Once the eggplant is roasted, you mix it into an easy sauce of canned tomatoes, garlic, and celery. You’re practically done at this point! Just stir in the vinegar, raisins, capers, and a tiny bit of sugar, and let the sauce simmer until the flavors are blended.
When you boil the pasta, save some of the starchy cooking water to add to the sauce. This is an old trick to help loosen a thick sauce, and you can apply it to any pasta sauce you make.
Ladle the pasta and caponata into bowls and sprinkle with olives, Parmesan, and parsley. Give it a taste, and you’ll immediately understand why sweet-and-sour dishes like this one have lasted for centuries.