The following is an excerpt from James Beard Award-winning chef Karen Akunowicz's latest cookbook, "Crave: Bold Recipes That Make You Want Seconds," available on September 19 on Amazon

Sometimes our cravings are simple: a homemade grilled cheese —​ toasty, golden, and melty. However, adding a layer of those sweet and sour notes puts this simple sandwich on a whole new level. Caponata is a miracle condiment, it has those sweet and sour notes that drive our taste buds wild and a hint of spice to keep us coming back for more. Typically it is made with eggplant, but I replace the eggplant with dried figs that amp up the sweetness and give it more texture. I like to use sliced smoked Gouda here, but you could easily swap it out for Cheddar or even mozzarella.

Grilled Cheese With Fig Caponata

  • Prep Time:30 mins
  • Cook Time:10 mins
  • Total Time:40 mins
  • Servings:4
  • Easy


  • cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves sliced
  • 1 cup medium-​diced Spanish white onions
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup small-​diced red bell peppers
  • tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dried figs sliced into rounds
  • cup red wine vinegar
  • cup pureed canned San Marzano tomatoes bought pureed or buy whole and use an immersion blender or food mill to puree
  • cup water
  • 1 tbsp capers rinsed well
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • For the sandwiches
  • 8 slices firm sandwich bread such as sourdough; a baguette is also delicious; just slice lengthwise
  • 12 ounces smoked Gouda sliced
  • 5.3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
Photo courtesy of Kristin Teig
  • Step 1

    Make the caponata: Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it starts to turn golden, 1 to 2 minutes, then add the onions, season with the salt and black pepper, and cook until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the bell peppers, thyme, and red pepper flakes and cook until soft, another 3 minutes. Next, add the figs, vinegar, tomatoes, and water. Simmer over low heat until thick and jammy, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the capers and basil to finish. Transfer to a nonreactive container and let cool.

  • Step 2

    Assemble the sandwiches: Heat a griddle or nonstick skillet over medium-​low heat. Spread the cut sides of bread with fig caponata, ¼ cup per sandwich. On the bottom half of the bread, layer half of the Gouda, then the prosciutto, and then the remaining Gouda. Enclose with the top half of the bread and spread soft butter on both outer sides of the sandwiches. Place a sandwich on the griddle or skillet, and weight the top of the sandwich with a heavy skillet or a foil-​wrapped brick. Cook until the bottom is golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the sandwich over and repeat with the opposite side. Repeat to assemble and cook the remaining three sandwiches. Cut crosswise and serve immediately.