High in taste and low in effort, this Sicilian caponata is a rich and piquant eggplant stew that's packed with nourishing vegetables and fragrant herbs. Serve it on its own with rustic bread, or as part of a larger meal, and you won't go far wrong!
If you're going to salt your eggplant, do it now; put the cubes into a colander, sprinkle with salt, and weigh them down by using a plate with a heavy saucepan on top. Either place the colander in the sink or in a shallow dish, and leave for 30 mins for the eggplant to 'sweat'. After half an hour, rinse well under running cold water.
Make the soffritto
While the eggplant is sweating, in a large saucepan, fry the onion in 2 tbsp oil over a medium heat until it begins to turn translucent (around 5-7 mins).
Add the garlic, and continue to fry for another couple of minutes, until the raw smell has gone.
Stir in the celery, carrot, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chilli flakes, and a pinch of sea salt, reduce the heat, and gently fry for about 20 minutes - stirring occasionally - until the onion becomes golden brown, and the other veggies have softened.
Steam the eggplant
While the soffritto is cooking, place a steamer pan on the stove to boil.
Once the water is boiling, add the eggplant cubes, replace the lid, and steam for 5-7 minutes, until the eggplant is tender. As soon as the eggplant is ready, remove from the pan to prevent it going mushy.
Make the caponata
Add the eggplant, Romano pepper, courgette, tomatoes, passata, tomato purée, olives, sultanas, capers, chilli pepper, water, and sugar to the soffritto. Give everything a good stir, and bring to a boil.
Once the caponata is boiling, reduce the heat, cover with a well-fitting lid, and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.
Turn off the heat, and stir in the rest of the oil, 2 tbsp wine vinegar. Taste - there should be a balance of sweet and sour. If it needs more sour, add the rest of the vinegar.
Stir in the almonds and basil, taste, and season with salt and black pepper.
Set aside to cool to room temperature before serving (although it's actually best served the next day).
Store in an airtight container in the 'fridge for up to a week. Before serving, heat gently to room temperature.