Caponata (version XXVII)

1 firm medium eggplant
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 ribs celery hearts, diced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 pounds plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons crumbled dried celery leaves
8 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 cup black olives, pitted
1 cup drained Cerignola green olives
1/4 cup drained capers, rinsed
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Rinse the unpeeled eggplant, chop into 1/2 inch cubes, and set aside.

In a large frying pan, heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium-low heat, and saute the fresh celery until translucent. Remove the celery from the pan and set aside.

In another large, 2-inch deep frying pan, heat the remaining oil over medium heat. Saute the onions and peppers until translucent and slightly tender. Add the salt, tomatoes, parsley, dried celery, and garlic, and simmer 20 minutes (the vegetables should be firm). Lower the heat and add the fresh celery and thyme. Stir all the ingredients, cook 5 minutes, remove the mixture from the heat, and set aside.

Cook the eggplant in the frying pan used for the celery over medium heat, about 5 minutes (the eggplant should remain firm). Stir in the vinegar. Add the eggplant to the tomato mixture, along with the sugar, oregano, olives, and capers. Season with pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Yields 4 pints.

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