Preheat oven to 400°. Peel the eggplant, leaving some skin intact. I do this by peeling only about every inch or so. Dice the eggplant into ½ inch cubes and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt. Roast for about 20-25 minutes until the edges start to brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, get all your veggies prepared. Dice the onion into medium sized pieces. Cut the fennel, celery, red peppers, and zucchini into ½- ¼-inch pieces. The main thing here is to get most of the vegetables about the same size as each other. But remember, this is a rustic dish, so please don’t fret over perfection or strict uniformity. Peel the garlic, and slice thinly. Now line all your veggies up by the stove. Mix the sugar with the red wine vinegar and set aside.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot (a dutch oven works great). Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Let it cook until it’s fragrant and translucent. The raw smell will leave and an amber color will start to take its place. That’s when to add the fennel and celery and cook until both start to soften, which takes anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Add the red peppers and zucchini and cook until they start to soften, about 5-10 minutes more. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and pepper and cook a few more minutes until its fragrance wafts up to you. Cook until everything melds together and marries into a stew. At that point, add the tomato paste and cook until a sweet tomato smell permeates the air, and the spoon drags on the bottom of the pot in a sticky sweet trail. Add ½ cup of water and stir any bits that might be clinging to the bottom of the pot. Let it cook until the liquid is mostly cooked out. Then add the vinegar-sugar mixture, the capers, pinenuts and fresh oregano. This is the point that it starts to smell like caponata. There is no mistaking it once this sweet, acidic mixture hits the air. Before now, it was a run-of-the-mill stew. Now it’s the magical relish/condiment/side dish that can be eaten hot, cold or anywhere in between. Now it can be enjoyed at concerts in the park or at midnight garden parties or on a mountain after a long hike or on the shore while breaking from the surf while the kooks are still out in droves. Caponata is perfect for all of those, or of course, shared with someone right there in your hot, sweltering kitchen. Serve immediately or put in jars and dole it out for weeks. It actually gets better with time.