Spicy Caponata Panini…a Guest Post from Michael Natkin of Herbivoracious

How gorgeous does that Spicy Caponata Panini look? I can say this objectively because I didn’t actually make it. This one comes from my friend Michael Natkin of the blog Herbivoracious. Michael creates the kind of vegetarian dishes that I would choose over meat any day of the week – big flavors, colors and textures that you want to just devour off of the computer screen (his photography is truly mouthwatering). I’m proud and honored to have him share this incredible sandwich-with-a-kick today. Please welcome Michael!

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I’m excited to be posting on Panini Happy today. Kathy and I have been friends for awhile, and I love what she has built here – a whole empire devoted to that most lovable of all foods, a delicious hot sandwich! I don’t post very many sandwiches on Herbivoracious, but I wanted to come up with a doozy to share with you today.

I’ve been greatly enamored of Mama Lil’s peppers lately. If you haven’t had them, they are hot little pickled goathorn peppers packed in olive oil. They are made up here in Seattle so we see them on pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and even ice cream (kidding!). If you can’t find them in your area, they are available at ChefShop.com.

I thought it would be fun to use Mama Lil’s in caponata, which is a classic Sicilian appetizer of sautéed eggplant in a sweet and sour (agrodolce) sauce. Sicily is close to north Africa, so they often incorporate complex flavors that are not so common in savory dishes around the rest of Italy, like the cinnamon and cocoa powder used here. These flavors aren’t dominant, but add an interesting background to the dish.

Now I’m not kidding when I say this panini is spicy! If you don’t like seriously hot stuff, you can make this with roasted red bell peppers instead, and add a pinch of chili flakes and a bit more vinegar. I bet you can roast peppers right on a panini press, right Kathy?

You can easily make the caponata in a day or two in advance, and then use it for panini in a hurry on a weeknight.


Spicy Caponata Panini

Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes | Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 panini


  • 1/2 cup Mama Lil’s Peppers (see note above)
  • 1 medium eggplant, about 13 ounces, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 5 pitted green olives, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves (preferably fresh)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 8 large slices of rustic Italian bread (not too thick)
  • 2 cups grated scamorza cheese (or a mixture of smoked and regular mozzarella)


  1. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drain the oil from the peppers into the pan, reserving the peppers. If that hasn’t yielded a couple of tablespoons of oil, add a bit more olive oil as needed. Add the eggplant, onion, garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. Toss to coat the vegetables with oil and lower the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is thoroughly tender, browned, and no longer holding the cube shapes, about 15 minutes.
  2. Add the reserved peppers, capers, olives, vinegar, sugar, tomato paste, cocoa powder, cinnamon, several grinds of black pepper and rosemary. Stir well and cook about 5 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. It may need more salt, vinegar, or spices to create a balanced flavor. Remove from the heat and mix in the parsley. At this point you can reserve the caponata in the refrigerator for up to a couple of days, or make the panini right away.
  3. To make the panini, preheat your panini press or alternate cooking unit. Lay out four slices of bread, and top each with 1/2 cup of the caponata and 1/2 cup of the cheese. Cover with the remaining slice of bread. Cook until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted, about 4-5 minutes. Using plenty of pressure to produce a nicely compressed sandwich. Serve hot.



KathyPanini Happy, online since 2008, is more than just a sandwich blog. Here, you'll find hundreds of my original panini recipes, my guide to choosing a panini press and a whole lot of other creative uses for the panini press.
~ Kathy Strahs
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  1. looks delicious! Great looking panini

    Posted 12.7.11 Reply
  2. Carolyn wrote:

    Fantastic guest post, I love caponata so I can see how it would make a great sandwich.

    Posted 12.7.11 Reply
  3. Oh your Panini looks lovely! I wish I could grab it out of screen and take a huge bite. like heaven.

    Posted 12.7.11 Reply
  4. I love caponata, the spicier the better 🙂

    Posted 12.7.11 Reply
  5. Jeanette wrote:

    I love a spicy caponata – would love to try Mama Lil’s Peppers.

    Posted 12.7.11 Reply
  6. Nisrine M. wrote:

    As a lover of eggplant, I’m really craving your panini. Delish.

    Posted 12.7.11 Reply
  7. sara wrote:

    YUM. This sandwich looks insanely good!

    Posted 12.8.11 Reply
  8. Great guest post! I have to say I’ve never tried caponata before, but this looks really good. *mouth waters*

    Posted 12.8.11 Reply
  9. man that does look good.
    this is the kind of condiments that I eat as a meal! no really.
    no one else likes this but me. i crave this stuff all the time and do even put it on my morning eggs. yes please. pickled eggs? remember those? i love them lol

    Posted 12.9.11 Reply
  10. I’ve been so sensitive to spice recently I’d definitely have to make with roasted bell pepps, but this looks yummy. There is just something about those winter caponatas

    Posted 12.13.11 Reply
  11. This is one tasty sounding panini!

    Posted 12.31.11 Reply