Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ratatouille (Not the Movie)

Ah, summer.

I loved the movie.
Also "The Big Night"
And "Babette's Feast"
Try them.   Food movies.  Ah.

I love the real deal better.   If you become a devoted cook, your world will revolve around the seasons.  Stews in winter.  Apple pie in the fall.  Berries in the spring.  And...
High summer: Tons of vegetables at their peak.

Garlic just  harvested

If you don't know ratatouille (the real deal), here's a definition from

[rat-uh-too-ee, -twee; Fr. ra-ta-too-yuh]  
a vegetable stew of Provence, typically consisting of eggplant, zucchini, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, and garlic, served hot or cold.

My basil, yellow zucchini, and Japanese egglant in the bath together.

I am unsure if I would call it a "stew."  I'm thinking a melange suits my ratatouille better.  This mixture of great vegetables, some cooked separately and some together (all mixed in the end) is, like much cooking, a totally personal dish.  While it can be a side dish, a main, served over pasta (rice, cous cous), or in an omelet, it can contain various proportions (depending on your garden/taste or market) of the vegetables mentioned above.  It can have more or less (I like more) garlic.  It can have crushed red pepper.  Fewer tomatoes.

The vegetables could be grilled, then mixed.  Or sautéed in the typical way.  I have, in a pinch, frozen it and brought it out in late fall so we can close our eyes and drum up summer days.  Tell me how you make and use yours?   For a solo cook, this is perfect.  You can share with a vegan friend, keep some for tomorrow, cut the recipe in half, or do it all and throw containers in the freezer for lunches. Here's a starter recipe:

Alyce's Ratatouille  Give yourself 1.5 - 2 hours.  While this cooks quickly, the chopping takes time.

1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
3-4 Japanese eggplant (skinny long ones) or 2 medium eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
1 tsp salt, divided
3 zucchini and 3 yellow squash, cut into 1" cubes
1 each:  red bell pepper and green bell pepper (or yellow), cut into strips
2 large onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup each:  chopped Italian (or curly) parsley and chopped fresh basil
1/4 c chopped fresh dill (or 1T dried dill)
1T dried oregano, optional
1 28 oz can Italian tomatoes, drained (reserve juice) or 1.5-2# fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped*
1 6 oz can tomato paste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 t crushed red pepper, optional (or to taste; be careful)
  1.   Preheat oven to 350.  Place chopped eggplant on a baking tray, sprinkle lightly with salt and let sit while the oven preheats.  When the oven is hot, blot the eggplant lightly on both sides with paper towels and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Cover the tray with foil tightly and bake about 40 minutes or until the eggplant is tender.  Remove from oven, remove foil, and set aside.
  2. Meantime,  in a large, deep skillet (or heavy soup pot), cook in the remaining oil the onions, peppers, and zucchini until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic, herbs, tomatoes, and tomato paste.  Season with about 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of black pepper.  Stir well, heat through and taste.  Add crushed red pepper and taste again.  Adjust seasoning if necessary.  
  3. Let simmer 15 -20 minutes over low heat.  Add eggplant and warm through.  Add some of the reserved tomato juice if the mixture becomes too thick and is sticking or if you'd like a looser consistency.
  4. Serve as is (hot, warm or cold), with Parmesan, over pasta, beneath fish or chicken, or in an omelet.  A big bowl of this and a hunk of bread folks can tear and dip into it is perfect August food.  
  5. Store tightly covered in frig 2-3 days or freeze for 3-6 months, well-wrapped. 
*To peel fresh tomatoes, cut an X in the bottom and  top.  Plunge into boiling water for a minute or two.  Pull out, let cool briefly (til you can handle them without being burned) and peel off skins using a small sharp knife or your fingers.  Chop coarsely before adding to ratatouille.
    I hope there's sun and comfort where you are today.
    Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

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