A tart and savoury sauce made with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, almonds, chilli peppers, and extra-virgin olive oil, capuliato is as ubiquitous as pesto in Sicily – and just as tantalising. The original name means “shredded” in Sicilian, but the term is also used more generically to indicate a seasoned pasta dish.
Its origins can be attributed to the Arab influence on Sicilian cuisine, which introduced the use of dried fruits and nuts in cooking, although according to food historians, the version we eat today hails from Vittoria, a town in the province of Ragusa.
The tradition of vegetables and tomato farming has long been central to the borgo, and capuliato was initially created as a technique for preserving the mighty red fruit, back when classic salsa and canning methods were not yet available. The recipe proved popular and spread quickly, turning capuliato into a staple of Sicilian households everywhere. As mentioned, the word capuliato refers directly to the method of processing dried tomatoes, and the same term is also used for carne capuliata, or minced meat (in Latin, the word “capulare” meant “to chop up”).
Capuliato is often used as a spread for bruschetta and crostini, as a sauce for pasta dishes, and as a topping for grilled meats and fish. But you’ll also find it in soups and stews, where it’s added to bring extra depth to the flavours.
If you want to taste it in its most traditional version, however, you have to try it in pasta con le sarde – a pasta dish made with sardines, fennel, raisins, and capuliato. It’s as good as it sounds, and the essence of summer on a plate.
But capuliato is more than a condiment. Because of its ties to vegetable farming, the sauce is in fact a symbol of Sicilian cuisine itself, and a celebration of the bounty of the land and the ingenuity of the people who have learned to make the most of what it provides. That’s what makes it so brilliant: Capuliato is a way to preserve the flavours of summer long after the harvest is over.