This is a beautiful dish with Roman origins, from Sicily. There is something beautifully different about some of the taste combinations you’ll find in Sicily, especially the tendency to combine sweet and sour – a legacy, they say, of ancient Roman days when sweet dates were used instead of tomatoes and sugar.
La caponata, one of the most famous Sicilian dishes, is a good example. It’s a cousin to the ratatouille of Provence. Caponata features eggplant, with celery, tomato and onions along with capers and olives. These are typical Southern Italian flavours. And it has that sweet-and-sour touch that perfectly balances out the flavours. It layers different flavours one upon the other, and, if you care to cook it for 30 mins or more, the flavours are deep and glorious and the consistency almost jam-like.
Serve Caponata on its own, hot or room temperature, on a Sunday afternoon (with a glass of wine, of course), or in the traditional manner as an antipasto. Caponata can be served on bruschetta, with flatbread or with salad leaves, and it’s also perfect as a side dish or even as a relish.
Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray note warily in the River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook that “there are as many ways to make caponata as there are cooks in Sicily”, a fact confirmed by Giorgio Locatelli, who claims that “in every house and in every restaurant you will find a different version and opinion.”
There are many versions of Caponata on Sicily – apparently 37 official versions, depending on local customs. The differences lie in the addition of different vegetables, for example potatoes, bell peppers, zucchini.
The secret to a good caponata is the quality of the eggplant, tomatoes and vinegar.
We have other Celery recipes too. Try Celery Yoghurt Salad, Spicy Celery Salad, and Chickpea, Celery and Carrot Salad with a Curry Dressing.
This is a recipe from our first blog which ran from 1995 – 2006. You can browse all of the vegetarian recipes from that blog in our Retro Recipes series.