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VERMICELLI WITH PEPPERS, TOMATOES AND EGGPLANT

Vermicelli alla Siracusana

Sicily
Preparation - Medium/Difficult
Serves 4

In Syracuse, a picturesque port city on the Ionian Sea, fresh vegetables and herbs are highly appreciated as in the rest of Sicily. But it is the royal purple eggplant that is most prized, an ingredient in many a Sicilian recipe.

  • 1- to 1 1/4 lb eggplant, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, peeled, seeded, cut into thin strips
  • 1/3-cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and squashed
  • 3 anchovies fillets, finely chopped
  • 5 or 6 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 1 14oz can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 black olives such as Gaeta or other oil-cured black olive, pitted, coarsely chopped
  • 2 T capers, rinsed, drained
  • 10-12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 lb vermicelli or angel hair pasta
  • Pecorino Romano cheese grated (substitute other hard pecorino or Parmesan cheese if need be).

SLICE the eggplant in slices 1-inch thick.

SPRINKLE lightly with salt and let stand for an hour or more. (Helps reduce any bitterness the eggplant might have.)

RINSE off salt and drain on paper towels.

PLACE pepper under the broiler until the skin is brown and blistered. Turn over to brown on all sides. Place in a paper bag for approximately 10 minutes to facilitate peeling.

REMOVE from bag and peel, remove seeds and slice into thin strips and set aside.

VARIATION: Or, char the pepper over a gas flame using tongs to turn, then peel.

BLANCH the tomatoes, seed, peel, chop and set aside.

HEAT 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan.

ADD the garlic and sauté till golden, about 2 minutes. Discard.

IN same oil, fry the cubed eggplant till golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

VARIATION: Alternatively, put slices on a lightly oiled cookie sheet, brush with olive oil and place in pre-heated 450º F oven and bake till browned, about 15 minutes.

CUT into cubes or strips.

ADD the anchovies, crush to a paste with a fork.

ADD the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and simmer over low heat for 8-10 minutes. Can be prepared a day ahead up to this point.

ADD the olives, capers, basil and bell pepper.

SIMMER till sauce thickens, 10 - 15 minutes.

COOK the pasta.

WHEN done, drain, place in serving bowl and pour on the sauce.

PASS the grated cheese at table.

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