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Caponata

1 large eggplant -- peeled, and cut into 2/3" dice
Coarse salt -- to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large sweet onions -- cut 1/2" dice ( such as Vidalia)
3 small celery stalks -- cut in 1/2" dice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
3 zucchini -- cut 2/3" dice
1 large red bell pepper -- cut 2/3" dice
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1 can diced tomatoes with juice - (14 1/2 oz)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
Freshly-ground black pepper -- to taste
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts -- (optional)


Place the eggplant in a colander. Toss with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let rest for 30 minutes. Rinse well with cold water, shaking the colander to remove as much water as possible.


Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.


Add the rinsed eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, thyme, 1 tablespoon of salt, the basil and oregano. Cook, stirring often, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and juice, vinegar and honey. Stir well. Simmer, uncovered, until the eggplant is just tender but keeps its shape and is not soft or mushy, about 5 to 7 minutes more. Taste; season to taste with pepper and salt. Stir in the pine nuts, if using. This can be made up to four days ahead and refrigerated.


Before serving, stir well and adjust the seasoning. Use it with simple roasted or grilled meats. It's perfect as an omelet filling. Add anchovies, fresh basil and Parmesan for a pasta topping. Try it with olives and fresh basil in lasagna or as a simple casserole, sprinkled with mozzarella cheese, baked until browned and sizzling hot. Turn it into a dip, coarsely chopped in the food processor, served chilled with tortilla chips. With the addition of capers, it also makes a tasty garnish for grilled fish, poultry and veal.


This recipe yields 8 cups or 12 servings.


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