Caponata is a Sicilian eggplant relish made with celery, onion, and tomatoes cooked into a sweet and sour sauce and served with bread as an appetizer. Some versions have olives or capers, others call for raisins or zucchini, and some even use hot peppers or anchovies. The results of this nuanced cooking process are delicious, if not exhausting.
Here, the slow cooker takes care of all the cooking, making this a mostly hands-off dish that can be used as an appetizer or main course.
Cut Vegetables into Small Pieces for the Best Results
For this luscious stew to take on the right consistency in a slow cooker, we're cutting the eggplant, onion, tomatoes, and celery into small or thin slices. The small pieces make the dip easier to, well, dip, but also ensure all the ingredients cook down at the same time. Eggplant in particular benefits from the smaller size; any larger than a 1/2-inch cube and the eggplant becomes spongy in the slow cooker.
Sweat the Vegetables
Beyond the chopping, the key to making this eggplant caponata in the slow cookers is cooking the vegetables in a small amount of liquid for about an hour. This step draws out the vegetables' moisture and helps them absorb the flavor of the vinegar and sugar.
The Sweet and Sour Sauce (aka Agrodolce)
Caponata truly embodies the Sicilian concept of agrodolce — a sauce that is both sour and sweet. Food historians agree the dish was born as a means to preserve vegetables with wine, but they can't agree on whether the dish was created upon marine ships or in roadside taverns. Red wine vinegar plays the part of wine in our slow-cooker version, and capers add a briny punch; sugar and raisins add sweetness to balance out the sour.
While caponata has all the trappings of a relish, it is often served as a dip. You can serve it warm straight from the slow cooker, or chill it (and let the flavors meld overnight in the fridge) and serve it at room temperature. Caponata can also double as a sauce for warm pasta, grilled chicken, or fish. Serve it straight-up as a side, or as breakfast topped with a poached egg.
How To Make Slow-Cooker Caponata
Makes 1 quart (8 to 10 servings)
What You Need
medium eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into small cubes
medium sweet onion, small dice
Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
celery ribs, thinly sliced
red wine vinegar
capers, drained and rinsed
toasted pine nuts
3- to 4-quart slow cooker
Stew the vegetables: Place the eggplant, onion, tomatoes, celery, tomato paste, and water in a 3- to 4-quart slow cooker. Stir until well-combined. Turn the cooker to HIGH, cover, and cook for 1 hour.
Add the sweet and sour: Add the vinegar, raisins, capers, and sugar, and stir to combine. Cover and cook until the eggplant is tender, the raisins plump, and the sauce quite thick, 1 to 1 1/2 hours more.
Cool: Cool and add the pine nuts. Serve on bread or as a sauce for pasta.
Storage: Finished caponata keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week