Sicilian Caponatina

Honoring Tradition

I always thought that there should be a place where family recipes can be shared. What’s old is new again and over time the dishes and recipes of our grandparents and parents have become lost in our busy lives . I myself have a long tradition of cooking Italian. I’m sure each person can name a number of dishes that they remember eating as a child. Or that special comfort food that Grandma used to prepare. In the passing of generations these dishes have become lost or forgotten. I hope to bring you a host of recipes that I grew up enjoying. Maybe some might sound familiar. Maybe your family prepared it a little different. But in all, what ever came out of Grandma’s kitchen was warm and comforting. I dedicate this blog to Grandma Lili Verga and to her constant love and affection. And to the way she always showed it by saying, “MANGIA FIGIU MIA!, MANGIA!

I’m second generation Italian. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York in an area called Bensonhurst. I was raised by two Italian mothers – my mother and grandmother. We lived in a two family house that my grandparents owned. I always enjoyed two dinners growing up. When I finished what my mother cooked I would always run upstairs to see what Grandma was preparing and she would always put another plate on the table and pleaded for me to “mangia”.

My father was a carpenter and my grandfather had his own butcher shop a block away from where we lived. We would have huge family gatherings for the holidays that were celebrated in the basement of our home. That was the only room large enough to hold a table that my father would fabricate to accommodate all the Aunts ,Uncles and cousins that would show up for the feast. And it was a feast that would always end with a card game as we cracked nuts, ate fruit, drank wine and listened to the elders argue over whose town in Sicily was more beautiful. These are my roots.

So to get started I would like to share a recipe that is a long standing tradition of Sicilian cooking and my grandmother – Caponata – or as we used to call it – caponatina – a mixture of eggplant, onions, celery, capers and pine nuts in a savory sweet/sour sauce of tomatoes.

  • Two Large Eggplant
  • 1/2 pound of green olives packed in brine and pitted
  • 6 stalks of celery, strip the filaments(strings) from the celery sticks
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 – 14.5 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes with juice
  • 1 – 15 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 6 oz of capers, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
  • 2-4 tablespoons of sugar
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt

Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch rounds. Cut the rounds in quarters. Place the cut eggplant into a strainer and sprinkle each layer liberally with salt. Let them sit, covered with a plate, for at least an hour.

While the eggplant is sitting, blanch the celery sticks in salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to cool. Cut the celery sticks into bite sized pieces.

Rinse away the salt from the eggplant and pat the pieces dry with a paper towel. Fry them in small batches in a light olive oil till they are golden brown.  Place the cooked eggplant on paper towels to absorb the oil. 

Slice the onion very thin length wise. Sauté in a 6 quart pot or larger the onion and celery in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil till translucent. Add the capers, pine nuts, olives, diced tomatoes with their juice and tomato sauce. Continue cooking on medium heat, stirring until the tomatoes are done, about 15 minutes. Stir in the eggplant. Cook for several minutes over low flame, stirring gently. Add 2-4 tablespoons of sugar (add more or less according to taste) and 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar. This is a sweet/savory dish. Continue cooking, stirring gently until all ingredients come together, about 5 minutes. Taste for salt and sweetness Dish should be slightly sweet.

Stop at this point and do not eat yet. The dish must sit covered in a container in the fridge for at least overnight. The taste mellows with time and gets even better. You can toast slices of Italian bread and top with the Caponata. Makes a great side dish with a loaf of Italian bread and some cheese and olives. This should be eaten cold or at room temperature. Enjoy!


About Peter Bocchieri

Peter was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and is a second generation Italian-American. He has a degree in Journalism from Long Island University and is an avid photographer, gardener and pet owner. Now that Peter is retired, he is relaxing at his home in North East Pennsylvania and cooking for his sons, Michael and Joseph, family and friends. Peter's passion for food was inspired by his Mother's and Grandmother's cooking, but at the age of 10 Peter felt he could do it better himself, so he did.
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8 Responses to Caponata/Caponatina

  1. Really enjoyed your blog today. Looks great! Mangia!

  2. April Buchwald says:

    You gave this recipe to me before but I never tried it. Looks great and love the photos. I will try to make it but would love just the words to print and put in a recipee file to use in my kitchen as I do not have my computer in the kitchen.

  3. Peter Bocchieri says:

    At the end of the blog click “print this post”. It should change the format.

  4. Carole Lotito says:

    Love your illustrations!

    Terrific blog; I’ll keep watching to see how your family cooks the favorites we have always also enjoyed.

  5. john anastasi says:

    Hi Peter:
    I’ m really enjoying your stories and recipes. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. I have many similar stories, and I also remember as a little boy being called “picciriddu figghiu mia”… followed by a tight pinch of my cheek .

    My maternal grandfather was from Santa Tecla a tiny coastal village near Acireale outside of Catania, and my maternal grandmother (nana) was from a mountain village (Basico) west of Messina, so I am familiar with many of your recipes. Stuffed artichokes (“cacciofuli”), for example, were a Holiday staple. Nana used to get the breadcrumb into every single leave..she would be embarrassed if she missed one…it was an act of love making them.

    It’s wonderful that you are doing this.. I will read along and maybe send more comments.

    Did you have a fig tree in your backyard when you were growing up?
    Do you make farsumargaru?

    best regards,

  6. Russ says:

    Peter, It must be in the blood, the names change but the story is the same. In truth you have described similar experiences in my family. Thank you, I laughed for 10 minutes straight.
    “picciriddu figghiu mia”, please translate this, figghiu mia is ” my son” what is picciriddu. I have many memories of Nana pinching my cheeks, she passed when I was young and those times are etched in my mind.
    Again thank you for your superb writing.

  7. Peter says:

    Russ, I’m glad you can relate to the stories. Picciriddu is Sicilian dailect for Piccolo, little. So “picciriddu figghiu mia” means “my little child”.

  8. Pingback: Recipes for Super Bowl Party – MY TOP 10 RECIPES FOR YOUR SUPER BOWL PARTY | cookingitaliancomfortfood

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