Eggplant Bean Stew with Polenta

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4-5 black olives in brine, drained and sliced off the stone
2 tablespoons drained capers
1-2 tablespoons raisins
2 drypack sundried tomatoes, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
1-2 good pinches crushed dried chilies
1 cup broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
1, approximately 12 ounces, eggplant, peeled and diced
3 small zucchini, diced
2 14 ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained and cut into strips
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 15 ounce can barlotti beans, drained
2-3 tablespoons shredded fresh basil leaves
4-5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
7-9 ounces ground cornmeal, polenta flour
6 cups cold water

Combine the olives, capers, raisins, sundried tomatoes, garlic, onions, chilies, broth and wine in a large nonreactive flame proof casserole or saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 5-7 minutes.

Add the eggplant, zucchini, tomato strips, and season to taste. Simmer, uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Stir in beans and the herbs and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes more, until the eggplant is tender.

For the Polenta:

Pour the water into a wide, heavy-bottomed, preferably copper pan and place it over a high heat. Bring the water to the boil. Trickle the polenta flour into the boiling water in a fine rain with 1 hand, and whisk constantly with the other (this is easier to do with a friend).

When all the polenta flour has been whisked into the water, reduce the heat to a medium to low flame and then begin to stir with a strong, long handled wooden spoon until the polenta comes away from the sides of the pan.

This will take between 40 and 50 minutes and requires patience, energy and a strong elbow. Turn the polenta out onto a wooden board and smooth it into a mound shape with spatulas.

To serve:
Leave it to stand for about 5 minutes, then cut it into slabs and serve hot with its accompanying stew, fricassee or casserole, or with a slice of very strong flavored cheese such as Gorgonzola. Alternatively, leave it to go completely cold, then slice it like bread and grill, fry or bake it as required.

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