Caponata from 'River Cottage Veg'

Caponata from 'River Cottage Veg'

[Photograph: Simon Wheeler]

Caponata is one of my favorite dippy things to whip out for summertime entertaining. A tangy sweet-and-sour melange of eggplant, tomatoes, and briny olives, the dish plays well with summer staples like grilled bread, grilled chicken, and grilled...well, anything. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's version in River Cottage Veg calls for an ingredient I had never thought to include in my caponatas: chocolate. Reading through the recipe, I was surprised by the addition and thought it a uniquely River Cottage thing. A couple of Google searches later returned countless Sicilian recipes that included grated chocolate or cocoa powder for some bittersweet richness. Perhaps it wasn't so surprising after all.

Why I picked this recipe: Had to try this chocolate-laced version of my favorite summer spread.

What worked: The ingredient list may be long, but the balance of this caponata is on point.

What didn't: I thought the eggplant could have used a little more time frying. I ended up needing to add a bit of water to the final simmering stew in order to give it more time on the stovetop.

Suggested tweaks: You could play with the ingredients here if you'd like, but keep in mind that the final dish is supposed to have a bright sweet-and-sour flavor.

Reprinted with permission from River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, copyright 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

  • Yield:Serves 4
  • Active time: 1 hour
  • Total time:2-3 hours


  • 2 medium eggplants (about 
1 pound/500g), cut into 
1/2-inch (1-cm) cubes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 inner celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 6 large plum or other ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped or a 14-ounce (400g) can plum tomatoes, chopped, any stalky ends and skin removed
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated dark chocolate (optional)
  • 1/3 cup (50g) golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 2 ounces (60g) pitted green olives, sliced
  • A good handful of flat-leaf parsley or mint, chopped, 
to finish


  1. 1.

    Put the eggplant cubes into a large colander and sprinkle with 
2 teaspoons of salt. Toss together and then leave to draw out the juices for about half an hour. Rinse the eggplant and pat/squeeze dry with a kitchen towel.

  2. 2.

    While the eggplant is salting, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan over fairly low heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and fry for about 10 minutes until tender and golden. Add the tomatoes with their juice and simmer for 5 minutes to reduce a little.

  3. 3.

    Now add the balsamic vinegar; sugar; chocolate, if using; golden raisins; capers; and olives to the pan. Simmer for another 5 to 
10 minutes, stirring often, then turn off the heat.

  4. 4.

    In a large frying pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. When hot, fry the eggplant cubes for about 
5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and tender. Tip them into the tomato mixture.

  5. 5.

    Return to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover, and leave until completely cooled. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

  6. 6.

    You can serve the caponata right away or leave it in the fridge or 
a very cool place for a day or two to allow the flavors to deepen even further; bring it to room temperature before serving. Sprinkle with plenty of chopped parsley or mint just before serving.