Ricotta-Stuffed Grape Leaves with Caponata Recipe

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For the Caponata:
2 eggplants (1 pound each), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch slices, then cut into 1/2-inch cubes
kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
2 yellow onions (about 8 ounces each), finely chopped
2/3 cup canned tomato puree
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons dried currants, covered with hot water, plumped for 20 minutes, and drained
salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Grape Leaves:
1 jar (8-ounce) grape leaves in brine
2 cups ricotta cheese, drained well
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
cracked pepper
olive oil

To make the caponata:
Place the eggplant cubes in a colander, sprinkle with kosher salt, and let stand for about 1 hour. Rinse and pat dry.

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant cubes and sauté until very tender and completely cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

In the same pan, add 1 to 2 more tablespoons olive oil if needed, and add the chopped onions. Cook over medium heat until the onions begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Return the eggplant to the onion-tomato mixture, and add the vinegar and sugar. Cook for 5 more minutes. Add the capers and currants, stir well, and cook until the vinegar has cooked of slightly and the ingredients are well blended, about 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside, or let cool and then refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before continuing.

To prepare grape leaves:
Rinse the grape leaves and pat dry. (This is important because the brine is very salty.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the grape leaves and boil for 2 minutes. Remove them from the water and place on paper towels to drain. (The grape leaves will probably twist and fold in the boiling process. Don't worry -- they unfold easily.)

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, milk, almonds, 1/4 cup of the chopped basil, and cracked pepper to taste. Mix well.

To assemble:
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Oil a large ovenproof pan or glass baking dish.

Place one grape leaf on a work surface with the smooth side down and with the stem side closest to you. The tip of the leaf will be farthest from you. Take 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture and place it 1/4 inch from the bottom of the grape leaf. Fold the bottom over the cheese mixture. Next, fold in both sides of the grape leaf and roll from the bottom toward the tip. The cheese should be completely encased. Continue with the remaining grape leaves and cheese mixture.

Brush the tops of the grape leaves with oil and cover the pan with foil. Set the pan in a larger pan and put them in the oven. Fill the larger pan with hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake for 1-1/4 hours. Remove from the oven and let sit, still covered, for 15 minutes.

To serve, place three or four stuffed grape leaves on each plate. Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons caponata over the grape leaves, and garnish with a little chopped basil. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

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