Caponata (version XVII)

3 ripe, medium-sized eggplants (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt, plus salt to sprinkle on eggplant
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1/3 cup pure olive oil
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
4 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 (12-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
3 fresh basil leaves, slivered
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed
1 cup small green olives, pitted and sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, or more to taste
scant 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar

Remove the stems from the eggplants and discard. Cut unpeeled eggplant into 1/2 cubes and salt liberally; drain in a colander with a heavy weight, such as a pot or glass mixing bowl, on top for 1 hour to allow the bitter juices to drain off. Rinse off salt, squeeze well, and dry with absorbent paper. Set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet; add onions and celery and saute covered for 5 to 8 minutes until slightly softened. Pour in tomatoes; add basil, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add capers and olives, and cook for 5 minutes longer. Set aside.

In another large skillet, saute the eggplant in 1/3 cup of hot olive oil,(add more oil if necessary to prevent sticking; eggplant absorbs a lot of oil as it cooks.) After 15 minutes, transfer the sauteed eggplant to the skillet with the onion and celery mixture, stirring until evenly mixed. Sprinkle the mixture with sugar, pour vinegar over, and stir. Cover and simmer slowly over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, or up to three days. Serve warm or cold.

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