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Caponata
In this well-known Sicilian dish, eggplant, bell peppers, celery and onions are cooked separately so that they retain their individual character, then these ingredients are simmered together with tomatoes in a sweet-and-sour sauce. Caponata tastes best the day after it is made, once the flavors have had a chance to blend and mellow. It keeps well in the refrigerator but should be brought to room temperature before serving. Accompany it with crusty sesame seed¿topped Sicilian bread for soaking up the fragrant sauce. Caponata can be served hot or cold, as an antipasto or a side dish.

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 2 eggplant, each about 1 lb., cut into 1-inch
      cubes
  • 2 red or yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut
      into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 3 tender celery stalks, sliced
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped pitted green olives
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 2 Tbs. capers
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Directions:

In a deep, heavy sauté pan or fry pan, pour in vegetable oil to a depth of 1/2 inch. Place over medium heat and heat until a piece of the eggplant dropped into the pan sizzles and swims around in the oil.

Dry the eggplant well with paper towels. Working in batches and adding additional vegetable oil to the pan as needed, carefully arrange the eggplant pieces in the pan in a single layer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is tender and browned on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.

When all of the eggplant has been cooked, fry the bell peppers in the same way until tender and lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes, then drain on paper towels. Finally, fry the onions and celery together in the same way until tender and golden, 7 to 8 minutes, and drain on paper towels.

In a large saucepan over low heat, combine the tomatoes, olives, raisins, capers, sugar and vinegar. Stir well and add the fried vegetables and salt. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture begins to dry out. Remove from the heat, transfer to a serving dish and let cool. If time permits, cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to marry.

Bring to room temperature before serving. Just before serving, sprinkle with the pine nuts.
Serves 8 to 10.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Italy, by Michele Scicolone (Time-Life Books, 1999).