(KCBS) – Capunata is a wonderful appetizer that is so popular. With the height of asparagus season, why not substitute the traditional eggplant with asparagus? KCBS Food and Wine Editor Narsai David offers his recipe for Asparagus Capunata.

Yield: 5-6 cups

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2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 stalks celery, diced 3/8 inch
2 large onions, diced 3/8 inch
2 lb medium asparagus, trimmed, and cut 1/2″ long
2 red bell peppers, diced 3/8 inch
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup sultanas (white raisins) or raisins
1/3 cup toasted pinenuts or toasted slivered almonds
3 TBS capers, drained
1/3 cup chopped green olives
1/3 cup chopped ripe olives (preferably Mediterranean)
2 TBS wine vinegar

Heat the olive oil in a large pan.

Sauté the celery for a minute, before adding the onions. Sauté for 2-3 minutes and then add asparagus and bell peppers. Cook over medium heat only until asparagus is tender. Add remaining ingredients and cook only until liquid has reduced to a minimum. Remove from heat and let stand at least 2 to 3 hours or refrigerate overnight. Serve at room temperature.

Narsai’s Polenta and Asparagus Capunata Appetizer
A very dramatic presentation can be made at home with ratatouille or asparagus capunata served as an appetizer course. Polenta, grits, or sticky rice should be spread 1/2 inch thick over a cookie sheet sprayed with vegetable oil and left to cool. Then press a 3 inch cookie cutter down into it and lift it off the tray, cookie cutter and all, on a spatula. (Note: If that large a cookie cutter is not available, a plastic yogurt or cottage cheese container can be cut with scissors to make a substitute.) Spoon the vegetable mixture on top of the grains and press it down into the mold. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and place it in the middle of an 8 to 10 inch plate. Remove the mold and dribble a little basil oil around the vegetables on the plate.

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Narsai’s Basil Oil
Yield: 2 cups

l bunch fresh basil
2 cups Olive Oil

Wash and pick over the basil leaves. Remove and discard any large or woody stems. Drop the basil into a small saucepan of boiling water and blanch only until the leaves wilt, about 30 seconds. Drain immediately and refresh in cold running water. Drain again and squeeze out until dry. Puree in a food processor or blender with the olive oil. Set aside to steep overnight. Strain first through a tea strainer, and then through a fine sieve. Pour into a small jar and keep refrigerated until use.

NOTE: Olive oil may congeal at refrigerator temperatures, but the cold temperature is desired to preserve the aroma of the basil. Leaving it at room temperature for a short while will cause it to liquefy and become clear again. Use as a flavoring in salad dressings or sautés. It is most beautiful when simply dribbled on a plate as a garnish for an appetizer or main course.

Narsai David is the KCBS Food and Wine Editor. He has been a successful restaurateur, chef, TV host, and columnist in the Bay Area spanning four decades.

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