There are at least two Caponata dishes in Italian cuisine.

Sicilian Caponata

The famous Caponata is a Sicilian eggplant dish, a cooked vegetable salad made from chopped fried eggplant and celery seasoned with sweetened vinegar, and capers in a sweet sour sauce. [cite web
title= Caponata
accessdate= 2008-05-26
last= Gangi
first= Roberta
year= 2006
publisher= Best of Sicily Magazine
] Numerous local variations of the ingredients exist with some versions adding olives, carrots and green bell peppers, and others adding potatoes, or pine nuts and raisins. There is even a Palermo version that adds octopus, while an aristocratic Sicilian recipe includes lobster and swordfish garnished with wild asparagus, grated dried tuna roe and shrimp! [cite web
title= Caponata alla Siciliana-The Baroness of Carni's Caponata
accessdate= 2008-08-27
last= Phillips
first= Kyle

] But these last are exceptions to the general rule of a sweet and sour cooked vegetable stew or salad.

Today caponata is typically used as a side dish for fish dishes and sometimes as an appetizer, but since the 1700s it has also been used as a main course.

Caponata is an example of the eggplant-tomato combination that is found in many Mediterranean cuisines, such as Provençal ratatouia, Catalan Samfaina, Maltese kapunata and the different moussaka found in the eastern Mediterranean.


The etymology of the name is not entirely known. Some suggests it derives from the Catalan language, others that it comes from the from the "caupone", the sailors' taverns. [cite web
title= A History of the Sicilian Caponata
accessdate= 2008-05-26
last= Wright
first= Clifford A.
year= 2008
] The dishes described by Wright would suggest that in the past the Sicilian dish was more akin to the less well known "Caponata" of sea-faring Naples. This Caponata does not resemble the Sicilian dish of today but is much more like the dish from Genoa - another great sea faring nation in the past - both served on dry biscuits or rusks.

Referring to this last dish, Elizabeth David [Italian Food, Elisabeth David, 1999 edition, Penguin Books, New York, Page 173] suggests the word "cappon" is related to the French "chapon" which is the piece of oil and garlic soaked bread on which green salad is sometimes served.

But there is another theory about the name of the Genoa dish that suggests it is named for capon, meaning the bird (see below).

Naples "Caponata Estiva"

In an Italian language cookbook, [La Vera Cucina di Napoli, Jeanne C. Francesconi, 1995, Newton Editore, Recipe 188] the Naples dish called "Caponata Estiva" or Summer Caponata is described as a traditional sailor's snack to enjoy if you happen to be out on a boat. To make it you sprinkle water on dried rusks "Friselle" (ring shaped dried rusk halves) or "Gallette" which you then dress with oil, salt, garlic, oregano and basil, and top with sliced tomatoes. It goes on to add that the dish may be varied in an infinte number of ways limited only by your imagination and gives a list of optional extra ingredients of which you may add one or more (or yet others) as you please. The list given is canned tuna, smoked herring, pickled vegetables, olives, capers, anchovies, sardines, hard boiled eggs, very thinly sliced boiled beef, cucumber, carrot, celery. This dish is also called "Caponata Napolitana" or "Caponata di Pesce" and varies from a simple tomato, bread and tuna salad [Naples at Table, Arthur Schwartz, 1998, Harper Collins, New York] to a dish as elaborate as the Genoa dish below. [cite web
title= Caponata di Pesce
accessdate= 2008-08-27
last= Phillip
first= Kyle
year= 2008

By the way Naples does have a very caponata-like dish (at least in one of the versions) called Cianfotta.

Genoa "Capòn Magro"

The Genoa " Capòn Magro" or "Cappon(e) Magro" is originally a simple sailor's dish, served on dry bread and perhaps originally based on the fish called "Cappone" in Italian or Scorpion Fish - yet another theory! Today this has evolved into a very elaborate and rich fish, seafood and cooked vegetable salad, a wonderful pyramid of many layers of fish, shellfish - including oysters and lobsters - and vegetables of many colours carefully arranged on top of Genoa's dry Ship's biscuits called " Gallette", covered in a green sauce and decorated with hard boiled eggs, shrimp, olives and more. [Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian: Savoring the Recipes and Traditions of the World's Favorite Cuisine, C. Andrews, Dorothy Kalins, Chronicle Books, 2001, Page 44]

As it is eaten on Christmas Eve, it may be that the name refers to the bird Capon also called "Cappone" in Italian and traditionally eaten on Christmas day when meat was permitted. "Magro" denotes a meatless or fasting dish in Italian cuisine,thus the fish dish is the "Cappone Magro" to be eaten on Christmas Eve, a fast day, and the name may mean "Christmas Eve Capon" or "Fast Day Capon".

ee also

*Eggplant salads and appetizers


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