Sicilian Caponata with Pine Nuts and Raisins

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1 large eggplant,1 1/2 pound, unpeeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
sunflower or canola oil
1 yellow onion
1 zucchini
2 celery stalks, cut into slices 1/2 inch thick
2 cups quick tomato sauce
3-4 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup raisins
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and patted dry (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the eggplant cubes in a colander and sprinkle with salt, tossing to coat evenly. Let stand for 1 hour to release any excess moisture. Pat dry with paper towels.

In a large frying pan, pour in the oil to a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat to 400 degrees on a deep-fat frying thermometer, or until a cube of eggplant dropped into the oil begins to brown immediately. Add the eggplant and fry, turning, until golden on all sides, 12-15 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to a colander to drain for about 20 minutes. Using paper towels, gently blot the eggplant to remove any excess oil. Set the eggplant aside. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the oil and set the frying pan aside; reserve the remaining oil for other uses.

Cut the onion crosswise into 3 thick rings and then cut into 1-inch cubes. Quarter the zucchini lengthwise, then cut into 1-inch cubes.

Place the frying pan used for cooking the eggplant over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add the zucchini and sauté for another minute. Then stir in the celery and sauté for 1 minute longer. Stir in the tomato sauce and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the eggplant, sugar to taste and vinegar and mix well. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thick and the vegetables are tender, 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts. Preheat an oven to 325 degrees. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8-10 minutes.

Remove the eggplant mixture from the heat and stir in the toasted pine nuts, raisins and the capers, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool, then cover and chill for at least 1 day or for up to 3 days to blend the flavors.

Before serving, using a large spoon, remove any oil that has solidified on the surface, then taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4

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