Tomato Sauce with Eggplant, Sweet Pepper, Olives, and Capers

1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus salt for eggplant
2-1/2 cups canned, peeled plum tomatoes in juice
1 red or yellow bell pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
8 sharply flavored imported black olives, such as gaeta, nicoise, or kalamata, pitted and sliced
2 teaspoon drained small capers
2 tablespoons chopped fresh italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
freshly milled black or white pepper to taste

Slice off the stem and navel from the eggplant. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes, place them in a colander, and sprinkle generously with salt. Set the eggplant aside for 40 minutes to allow the bitterness to drain from the seeds. Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes, reserving their juice. Strain the captured tomato juice to hold back the seeds.

Measure out 1/2-cup juice and reserve the remaining juice for another use. Using your fingers, push out the excess seeds from each tomato. Chop the tomatoes and set the tomatoes and juice aside.

Cut the bell pepper in half lengthwise, de-rib the halves, and remove the stem and seeds. Cut the halves into l/2-inch-wide strips, and then cut the strips into small dice. Set aside.

Rinse the salt off the eggplant and, using 2 or 3 clean kitchen towels, dry it well. In a saucepan over high heat, combine the olive oil, garlic, eggplant, and bell pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is tender, about 9 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 1/2 cup juice and the 1/2 teaspoon salt, reduce the heat to medium, and stir and cook until the mixture is thickened, an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the olives, capers, parsley, basil, and pepper.

YIELD: Makes approximately 4 cups. Two cups are sufficient for saucing 1 pound pasta.

AHEAD-OF-TIME NOTE: The sauce can be made 3 to 4 days in advance of using and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen for up to 3 months. Whether storing it in the refrigerator or freezer, leave out the olives, capers, parsley, basil, and pepper. Stir them into the sauce after reheating.

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