Caponata (version XXIV)

2 pounds eggplant (about 2 large)
1 pound yellow onions (about 3 medium)
1 large red bell pepper
5 or 6 stalks of celery with leaves
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 28-ounce tin tomatoes in juice
about 10 kalamata-style black olives, pitted
about 5 large green olives, pitted
2 tablespoons capers rinsed
a handful of fresh italian parsley, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons white (or brown) sugar
salt and black pepper to taste

Wash, dry, and trim the stem end from the eggplant. Cut it, skin included, into half-inch dice, place in a colander, and sprinkle with a tablespoon of fine sea salt, spreading this through the eggplant pieces with the hands. Set over a large bowl and let rest for at least one-half hour and preferably up to two. Then discard the collected liquid and dump the eggplant cubes in a sink full of cold water. Swirl them around to rinse them well and lift them out, handful by handful, squeezing them hard. Put them back into the colander, into which you have already spread an expendable dish towel. When all the eggplant pieces are in the towel, gather its ends together and twist it progressively tighter and tighter, forcing as much liquid out of the eggplant as possible. Put the cubes in a large bowl.

Peel and coarsely chop the onion. Core, seed, and coarsely chop the red pepper. Cut the celery into bite-sized pieces. Pour the olive oil into a large pot and heat over a low flame until the oil begins to ripple. Stir in the crushed hot red pepper and then the celery. Cook this, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, then add the onion, garlic, and the red bell pepper pieces. Cook these, still stirring, for another five minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent. Stir in the eggplant. Sauté this mixture for twenty minutes. At this point, taste the eggplant. The flesh should be soft and tender. If not, continue cooking another five minutes and taste again.

Add the tomatoes with their liquid, dividing them into chunks with a heat-proof rubber spatula. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 10 minutes, while you cut the pitted black and green olives into small bits and rinse and chop the capers. Add these, stir in well, and cover again, continuing the simmering until the eggplant skin is tender, about 15 more minutes. Taste the caponata for doneness: the vegetables should all be soft but retain some texture; the liquid should be syrupy. Stir in the minced parsley, the vinegar, and the sugar. Cook just long enough to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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