I scored some beautiful small Italian eggplant at Union Street Produce so I just had to make caponata. I love this flavor-packed sweet-sour eggplant side dish (condimento) from Sicilia.

Usually I make caponata during the summer when the eggplant and tomatoes are at their prime. I was surprised to see the early crop of Italian eggplant in late January but it’s been a really mild winter in the Bay Area. The tomatoes were hot house vine-ripened on the stem.

Caponata is easy to make. Most of the work is cutting the eggplant and vegetables. Caponata is cooked in stages and married at the end with agrodolce, a sweet and sour syrup. Eggplant is the star so choose well at the market. The eggplant should be shiny black and firm to the touch. The small Italian eggplant are my favorite for caponata but if you can’t find them any eggplant will do.

If you’ve never had caponata try some from a shop like North Beach’s new salumeria (Italian deli) Geppetto to get a taste of how this dish is supposed to be and then make your own. Caponata will keep in the refrigerator for about a week so I usually have some on hand to add to an antipasti platter, as a side dish for grilled or roasted meat or fish, as pasta sauce or as a topping for bruschetta or crostini.