Summertime Ratatouille 2.0

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Oooohh … fresh herbs are starting to appear! 

For some reason I’ve been craving eggplant for the past few months.  Not sure why, but it’s way better than craving doughnuts or ice cream so I’m just going with it.  Eggplants are among the undersung superheroes of the vegetable world — they’re FULL of fiber, and, like mushrooms, lend a substantial, meaty quality to a dish — all that fabulous fiber soaks up flavor and sticks to your ribs, as my Mom would say.  After roasting eggplants for weeks on end, I felt like branching out a bit.  Ratatouille is a wonderfully simple summer recipe that is so easy to make in big batches and keeps well for leftovers.  That said, I’ve eaten some bland, lumpy, not-so-insipiring ratatouille in my life, and I didn’t want that.  I wanted that rich but light magic that perfect slow cooking gives veggies.

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Look at these little beauties … this recipe calls for plain old fat purple Italian eggplants, but you could experiment with farmers’ market finds…

So here’s how to make a velvety, divine dish that is full of flavor and special enough for a summer dinner party on the porch.  The key is to add the veggies in stages — and to cook on a low simmer — and if possible, make the night before and let flavors meld overnight.  This version has a little spicy kick and — while traditionalists may blanch — with added mushrooms and garbanzos, is enough for a full meal on its own; it’s lovely served over a bed of baby greens or quinoa — or just on its own with some nice, sturdy bread to soak up the juices.  You can make ahead and just barely warm it up for serving.  This is a dish that absolutely gets better with age!

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Even committed zucchini haters will enjoy it in this dish — this is the perfect role for zucchini or summer squash to shine — as supporting cast to superstar Eggplant.

Ratatouille Upgrade:

  • 1 eggplant
  • 4 Roma tomatoes — about 2 lbs.  (You can use a 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes in a pinch, but the taste just won’t be as fresh.)
  • 1 large onion, red or white
  • 1 small zucchini or summer squash (like, the size of a banana)
  • 1 bell pepper, any color
  • 6+ garlic cloves (sky’s the limit)
  • 10 oz. (2-3 cups) mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1/2 cup chopped olives
  • 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
  • 1 teaspoon each (for starters!) of dried oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary — fresh herbs are even better!!
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
  • about 2 cups dry white wine (or broth or plain old water)
  • about 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (more if you’re not using wine)
  • 1-2 tablespoons tomato paste (if you’re using fresh tomatoes)
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
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Can’t wait for fresh tomatoes!  Won’t be long now … I find with this dish that with supermarket veggies I tend to use more seasonings — with veggies from the garden, the flavors need little enhancement.

Okay, first find the right pan.  A large Le Creuset-type thing is perfect.  A big cast iron frying pan with a lid is great too … you want a nice heavy bottom so nothing burns, and a cover that fits.

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I love having rosemary growing all year on the street here!  If you can get your hands on fresh herbs, use them in this recipe … and dry some for winter!

Now put a generous splash of olive oil in the bottom.  Chop your onion and garlic, turn heat onto medium high, and saute until just a tiny bit brown.  Meanwhile, slice mushrooms.  Add the mushrooms to the pan with another splash of oil, and continue to cook, uncovered.  Dice tomatoes if using fresh ones and add, when mushrooms are getting nice and soft.  Now chop your eggplant.  You want big enough chunks so it won’t fall completely apart by the end — about an inch or so across.  When the tomatoes have started to soften, add the eggplant, a cup of white wine, tomato paste, and a tablespoon of vinegar as well as the herbs and a bit of salt and pepper.  (If you’re using canned tomatoes, add them at this step rather than earlier.)

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Start with onions & garlic …

Cover the pan and turn down the heat so things are just simmering.  After ten minutes, stir, and recover for another ten minutes.  Meanwhile, chop your zucchini and bell pepper.  I like to roast the pepper on a burner for just a couple of minutes to add a tiny bit of smokiness to the flavor.  Add the pepper and zucchini to the pan, when the eggplant is getting quite soft and just starting to break down.  Add a bit more wine, maybe half a cup, and recover for another ten minutes — again, just at a simmer.

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Eggplant chunks should look like this…

Now chop your olives and drain garbanzos.  Check the pan — zucchini and peppers should be softening but still a bit crunchy.  Add the garbanzos, olives & capers.  Check the sauce for taste — more vinegar, herbs or salt??

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… In go the olives … getting really close to being done …

Replace the cover on the pan, and turn heat down as far as you can go while keeping things just barely bubbling.  After ten or so minutes, give a stir, and turn off the heat.  Everything should be silky and tender — but not mush!  If possible, leave overnight for flavors to ripen, and heat up the following day to serve.

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Oh, Yummers!!!  Bon Appetit 🙂
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