- 4 firm Italian eggplants, about 1 ½ pounds total
- 4 firm zucchini
- 5 large plum tomatoes, or 1 (14-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
- 2 firm red bell peppers
- 2 firm yellow bell peppers
- 1 cup California Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper or peperoncino (red pepper flakes)
Set yourself up with two colanders. Trim the stems from the eggplant.
Slice the eggplant lengthwise 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut the slices lengthwise into
strips about 1/3 to 1/2 inch wide, and cut those strips crosswise into cubes. Put
the eggplant cubes into one of the colanders. Cube the zucchini the same way,
and put it into the second colander. Thoroughly toss each vegetable with about
2 teaspoons salt. Set a plate directly on top of the vegetables in each colander,
and weight the plates with a couple of large cans. (This will press out the water
and intensify the flavor of the vegetables.) Put the colanders in the sink, or
on two deep plates to catch the water, and set them aside for at least 2 hours
If you’re using fresh tomatoes, bring a saucepan of water to a boil over
medium-high heat. Set a plate near the stove. Add the tomatoes to the water
and let them bob around until the skin begins to pull away from the flesh, 1 to
2 minutes. Remove the tomatoes to the plate with a slotted spoon or “spider”
and let them cool a few minutes. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel off
the skins with your fingers. Chop the tomatoes, put them in a bowl, and set
them aside. (If you’re using canned tomatoes, coarsely chop the tomatoes—a
food processor works just fine for this—and set them aside in a bowl with their
Cut off and discard the tops of the bell peppers. Cut the peppers in half through
the stem ends and pull out the seeds with your fingers. Carefully cut out the
fleshy, white ribs with a small knife. Then slice the peppers into strips 1/3 to 1/2
inch wide; cut the strips crosswise into squares.
Dump the eggplant out onto paper toweling. Cover with more paper toweling
and pat dry completely. Do the same with the zucchini, keeping the vegetables
Set a 9-by-13-inch baking dish next to the stove. Place two large skillets on top
of two burners over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup California Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil to each pan and heat until the
oil is hot enough to sizzle when you add a piece of eggplant. Then put the eggplant
into one pan and the zucchini into the other. Cook, stirring every now and
then with a wooden spoon, until the vegetables just begin to color, about 20
minutes. Scrape all the vegetables out into the baking dish.
Turn the heat to low under one skillet. Add another 1/4 cup California Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil and the garlic to
the skillet. Heat the oil until you smell the garlic a bit, 1 to 2 minutes. (Don’t
let the garlic color or it will get strong tasting.) Now add the chopped tomato
(fresh or canned, with juices), 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the parsley. Cover and simmer
very gently until the tomatoes are soft and saucy, about 25 minutes for
fresh or 35 minutes for canned. Scrape into the baking dish.
While the tomatoes cook, add the remaining 1/4 cup California Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil to the second pan, set it
over medium heat, and heat until a little piece of onion sizzles when you add it
to the pan. Add the chopped onion and cook 5 minutes. Add the diced peppers
and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring now and then, until the peppers are very
soft, about 25 more minutes. Add to the baking dish.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F and center a rack in the oven.
Add 1/8 teaspoon black pepper or peperoncino to the vegetables in the baking
dish and gently stir all the vegetables together. Taste, and add salt or pepper to
your liking. (We don’t really do spicy, but you can add more red pepper, if you
like.) Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake 25 minutes.
Chef's Note: Caponata is a vegetable dish that’s made all over Italy. Everybody has a
slightly different recipe, but the version most recognizable to Americans is
Sicilian, typically made with olives and capers, as well as vinegar and sugar
to give it the familiar sweet-and-sour taste. Our version is made with nothing
more than vegetables, seasoning, and olive oil, with the vegetables all cooked
together in a big pan on top of the stove.
This recipe is bicultural, the result of a year I spent at school in the south
of France when I was twenty. The lady of the house where I stayed was a
wonderful cook, and she often made ratatouille, a vegetable stew that is
similar to caponata—at least the way we make it in Piacenza (not surprising—
southern France is not far from northern Italy). But instead of cooking
everything all together, Madame Gueno cooked the vegetables one at a time
and then combined them at the end.
Madame’s method appealed to me because it considers each vegetable’s
cooking time (peppers take longer than zucchini, for instance). Nothing
overcooks, I can taste each vegetable, and nothing turns to mush. I imported
it to my mother’s kitchen when I returned from France. The final step—number
9—is my own. Baking gently melds the flavors.
You can serve this as an appetizer or vegetable side dish, but I make it
more often as an antipasto. When it’s spooned on top of toasted bread slices
or bruschetta crackers, people love it. Jack, in particular, is crazy for it. (He
begs me to make it every year for his birthday, a big bash with about seventy
to a hundred guests . . . and how can I say no?)
If you do plan to serve it with bruschetta, cut the vegetables very small—
about ¼-inch dice. I make it in large quantities because it’s more than a little
chopping (which I don’t want to do too often). It’s good cold or hot, and it
gets better as it sits—two days after you make it, it’s perfect.
Recipe credit: Delicious Memories
( Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011), by Anna Boiardi and Stephanie Lyness.
Reprinted with permission from Stewart, Tabori & Chang.