Caponata di zucca (Sicilian sour-sweet butternut squash caponata)

Sicilian caponata di melanzane is very famous, however it is not the only one. In fact, on a trip to Sicily and after reading the seminal “Profumi di Sicilia” by Giuseppe Coria,  I learnt that “caponata” is only a generic term used to describe a dish made of assorted cooked vegetables finished off with a sour sweet condiment, either sugar or honey and vinegar.

In Ragusa they have, for instance, an amazing sounding Christmas Eve caponata made with winter vegetables: artichokes, parsnips, fennels cauliflowesr and chicory dressed with a souce made with toasted almonds, breadcrumbs, anchovies, honey, vinegar and bitter chocolate, called salsa di San Bernardo, Saint Bernard sauce. In another version I have found, from the town of Polizzi Generosa,  borage, spinach, chicory, fennels cardoons, artichokes and  celery are separately blanched and then ripassati in padella, sautéed in oil and garlic. They are then dressed with few drops of vinegar and served on a platter, with anchovy fillets, capers,  toasted breadcrumbs and slices of lemons on top. There is then another sumptuos version (for winter, again) where blanched celery is lightly fried with onions, handfuls of raisins, sultanas, toasted almonds, capers and green olives – on a large white platter and pomegranate seeds scattered over, this makes for a stunning party piece.

The following is a caponata di zucca, a butternut (or crown) caponata – an excellent Autumn and Winter dish, to be eaten at room temperature, the following day ideally.  In my caponata, celery (a typical ingredient of this dish) is present only in the form of chopped leaves at the end, to counterbalance the overall sweetness, alongside the briny olives and the agrodolce. This makes a lovely antipasto or an accompaniment to some pigeon breast gently fried in butter, for instance.


Caponata di zucca (Sicilian sour-sweet butternut squash caponata)

Peel, core and thickly slice one butternut (1.5 kg approx). Brush the slices with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast them in a hot oven, until tender and bronze coloured, turning them once. Let them cool and cut them in pieces. You could also fry them, of course: this would be what most traditional  Sicilian cooks would do.
Pour a generous glug of oil in a large frying pan and when it is hot add  a couple of thinly sliced onions, lightly salting them too. When they are floppy and golden, add the butternut pieces and stir well, at a lively heat.

Add now a generous handful of green olives,  a little less of sultanas and a couple of tablespoons of capers (well rinsed). To my shame I used pitted olives: be smarter and use whole ones, smashing them with the palm of your hand to pit them: they are better and  do look better.

Add a little agrodolce, made by mixing some vinegar and honey: how much and how sweet it is really up to you. I used cider vinegar and a mild honey, mixed well. Add this condiment by the tablespoon and keep tasting the dish over the next ten minutes, until you have reached the sour and sweet balance that is right for you. Stir and simmer for about 20 minutes, on a low heat, covered. Cool and refrigerate.

Add some chopped celery leaves and some toasted pumpkin seeds, just before serving

All caponatas are much better after a good rest in the fridge: the ingredients get to know each other, any initial harshness subsides, the general tone mellows.

Almonds, toasted and slivered could be added too, as well as some fried breadcrumbs.






18 thoughts on “Caponata di zucca (Sicilian sour-sweet butternut squash caponata)

  1. It was delicious! All four of the diners loved it. A little remained at the end of the meal, and it will disappear at lunch today. What an unusual and delicious way to have squash. Thank you!


    1. great! really pleased you liked it Pat: lovely dish and a good way of using a vegetable that, at least here in the uk, is abundant, cheap and generally reliably good- st


  2. I literally cannot wait to try this! I have a harvest of dozens of butternut and other squashes and was so tired of making soup and kibbeh is so time-consuming. This is perfect!!!!Sicilian food reminds me so much of Lebanese food, by the way.


  3. Sounds very nice, Stefano.I must confess I didn’t know about these winter caponate, but they sounds awfully good. (Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to local Profumi di Sicilia when I was there over the summer. So I guess I’ll need to keep reading your blog.)


    1. I did not know either actually.. it was only talking with local cooks and then reading Profumi di Sicilia…. the book: very difficult to get, out of print/it took me months of dealing with the publisher and then I just got lucky, they found a copy, somewhere… It should come out soon: if u r really interested, I would contact the publisher…. it is a great book, but mainly from an historical point of view. I actually find Simeti’s book equally good (and more “cookable”)


  4. I did a study on caponate several years ago but nver found any of the really unique ones you mentioned. As it is definitely pumpkin season, I look forward to to this caponata, as well as zucca in agrodolce, something I wanted to try in Sicily but it always came with tons of raw garlic. For the subtlety of the zucca flavor, I think sautéed shallots would be better,


    1. raw garlic!! – horrible if overused (and yes, I remember u cannot have it at all) + the variations I have mentioned come from Italian books, even if there a rather good book from chef Giorgio Locatelli, called Made in Sicily where he describes a nice caponata vith celery and dried fruit (which I can send u if interested)


      1. I would love that recipe – it sounds so different. I look forward to trying this caponata over the weekend. Bought the butternut at the market on Sunday. My cousin (who lives half th year in Bologna) was truly mortified by the amount of raw garlic. Neither she nor her husband could eat it!


    1. yes, it looks really seasonal, all orange and bronze colours… another major thing is that it keeps beautifully for few days


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