Grilling Takes Eggplant Caponata To New Heights

Italian eggplant caponata is elevated to new heights thanks to the smokiness created by grilling the ingredients.

Caponata is a traditional eggplant based recipe especially popular in southern Italy. It is served as a sandwich, as an appetizer on rounds of a crusty fresh bread, on crackers, as a sauce on grilled seafood, on grilled pork chops or chicken, on pasta, and even on pizza. Italian eggplant caponata is usually made in a pan or pot, but grilling the ingredients adds a layer of complexity. Once you have the concept, you can riff on it. Alone, this is a great vegetarian grilling option, though some recipes incorporate squid, octopus, shrimp, or fish.

This recipe was inspired by a traditional indoor recipe from my wife's niece Maria Scheuler. She served me my first taste of this wonderful relish which she makes by sautéeing the veggies, chopped first, in oil in her Dutch oven rather than grilling.

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Grilled Caponata

Caponata can be made as a vegetarian dish or made with fish.

Course. Lunch. Dinner. Appetizer. Entree. Side Dish. Vegetable.

Cuisine. Italian.

Makes. about 3 cups

Takes. 30 minutes prep. About 45 minutes cook time.


1 large eggplant, about 8" long, about 1.5 pounds

1 zucchini, about 6" long, about 3/4 pounds

1 medium sweet red bell pepper

1 medium onion

2 celery stalks

1/4 teaspoon Morton’s coarse kosher salt (read more about the science of salt here)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided in half

2 cups tomato sauce

1/2 teaspoon of your favorite hot sauce

4 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoon inexpensive balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup oil cured green olives

1/4 cup raisins

2 teaspoons capers

12 fresh basil leaves, or 3 tablespoons dried basil

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

salt to taste


1) Prep. Cut the eggplant and zucchini into 1" slices, discarding the ends. Peel the onion and leave the ends on. Cut in half. Remove the leaves from the celery and clean it well. Cut the bell pepper in half and remove the stem and seeds. Put them all in a big bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, pour in about 3 tablespoons olive oil (about half the amount in the recipe).

2) Fire up. Prepare a grill for medium high direct heat cooking, 300-400°F.

3) Cook. Place the vegetables on the grill. Cook the until the eggplant and zucchini are starting to brown on both sides, until the onions get some grill marks, and until the celery begins to get flexible. Remove from heat.

4) Prep again. Chop the ends off the onion. Chop the celery and everything else into 1/4" chunks.

5) Remove the pits from the olives and chopped into 1/4" chunks. Set aside.

6) Mince or press the garlic.

7) Cook again. In a large frying pan or Dutch oven, pour in 3 tablespoons of olive oil to cover the base of the pan with a thin layer. Warm to medium high. Stir in the garlic and let it cook until it is soft but not brown, about 1 minute. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Mix in everything else except the pine nuts and fresh basil (if you are using dried basil, add it now). Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thick, about 30 minutes.

4) Serve. Chop the basil, add it to the pot, stir in the toasted pine nuts, and season to taste. You can serve it warm, spooned on slices of baguette, or cool, and chill for a few hours or overnight.

"If your mother cooks Italian food, why should you go to a restaurant?"Martin Scorsese

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