This is a recipe that was handed down to me by my former father in law. He was Sicilian, and this was a traditional dish that was served primarily during Lent. We love it so much that we don't just limit it to Lent; it is a year round dish! Don't let some of the ingredients be off putting. It really comes together, making a robust and filling meal.
1Wash eggplant. Chop into cubes and toss with salt. This will draw any bitterness out of the eggplant. Set aside to drain. It will get very watery, but will not affect the final texture of the dish.
2In a large, heavy bottomed stock pot heat the oil and sauté all of the onions, celery and red pepper until wilted.
3Rinse the salt off of the eggplant, and drain well in a colander. Add the drained eggplant and fresh garlic to the onion mix. Saute for about five minutes, stirring frequently. The heat should be medium-low. Add tomatoes, olives, capers, drained artichoke hearts, bay leaves and seasonings.
4Cover and cook until the eggplant is almost tender.
5Remove cover. If the addition of shrimp is desired, add it now. Fold the veggies and shrimp together. Move the mixture to the outside of the pot, and add the rice to the center where the liquid pools.
6Cover the rice with the shrimp/veggie mixture, and cover the pot. Cook on low until the rice is tender. Just before serving, add the chopped basil. You can also crush the leaves between your fingers to release the oils.
7My family loves garlic, so I usually add powdered garlic at this point to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. The red pepper flakes are optional, and can be adjusted to suit your taste.
8Whist this is a wonderful dish the same day that it is prepared, it is even better the following day. It keeps well for several days when prepared with the shrimp, and for a week when prepared without the shrimp.
9****Measure out the liquid from the tomatoes. You want to have 1 1/2 cups of liquid for the rice. Add water or veggie broth if needed to equal the 1 1/2 cups.
10This dish is not going to be a dry one; it will still be fairly moist. Get out the French bread to sop up all of those great juices!
11If anchovies are your thing, add them when you add the shrimp and omit the salt.