End of Summer Ratatouille

Whenever I find myself loaded with tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant and summer squash this is what I make. Ratatouille (rat-a-too-ee) is an old classic French vegetable stew that was made popular again a few years back by the Pixar movie of the same name. If you haven’t seen the film, I suggest you do – perhaps tomorrow over a day old dish of this stew.

The theme of the film is that anyone can cook and make delicious food with high quality, yet simple ingredients. That’s awfully similar to the premise of Everyday Chef, isn’t it? Also, the longer the vegetables meld together and break down, the better this dish gets – so I wasn’t joking on trying it the next day. It’s great cold and I often eat it simply on a piece of toasted bread.

I know I’m bringing this to you a bit late in the season and for that I apologize. During the past few weeks much of my time was focused on our Twilight in the Meadow fundraiser, which helps raise money to continue our programs like Everyday Chef. But I saw a ton of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant thriving at the market this past weekend, so it is still very much possible to make. You might be out of luck on the summer squash at this point, but just increase the amount of the other ingredients and use varying colors, or throw in a few others, such as mushrooms or even potato.

I’ve seen ratatouille made many ways. But my favorite is by roasting. I think it’s also the least fussiest method.

Gather your veggies. Peel and slice as needed. I like to do a rough chop and keep everything similar in size. I don’t bother with a fancy presentation. Often you’ll see ratatouille plated with everything sliced paper thin in circles, all the same in size, and arranged perfectly together. But unless you’re trying to impress or are running a restaurant, I don’t think you don’t need to bother. This will still look, and more importantly, taste, good.

 Arrange everything but the tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with of oil, thyme leaves and a few pinches of salt. Roast at 425 for 30-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook down the tomatoes on top of the stove in a little heated oil, garlic and red pepper flakes over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally and throw in some salt to taste. When they’re close to done and at a sauce-like consistency, add in a few splashes of red wine vinegar and the basil.

When the veggies are ready – they should look something like this, maybe a little less charred – toss them together with the tomatoes.

You could eat this all by itself topped with some grated Parmesan. But I love to serve it over polenta. Remember, it gets better the next day and the day after that. Bon Apetit.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • 3 medium onions
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 3 zucchini or summer squash
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • red wine vinegar

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 425.
  2. Peel veggies as needed (especially if your eggplant is not super fresh) and roughly chop into pieces about the same size.
  3. Place all the veggies but the tomatoes on a baking sheet with 1/2 of the garlic, the thyme leaves, a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt.
  4. In a medium sized pot heat a couple tablespoons of oil and then add in the remaining garlic and red pepper flakes. Let cook for a minute, then add in the tomatoes and season with salt.
  5. Allow to cook down over low-medium heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally and being careful not to let the tomatoes splatter.
  6. When nearly done, add in the red wine vinegar and basil.
  7. When the veggies are done roasting, toss with the tomatoes and serve. Top with Parmesan if you’d like. Enjoy by itself or over polenta.

No Recipe Vegetable Sauce

If you take a look at my fridge or kitchen counter right now you’ll find odds and ends of lingering summer veggies. Green tomatoes on their way to ripening, a couple of Japanese eggplants, all kinds of peppers, mixes of herbs in jars of water and other remnants.

I’m sad to pull be cleaning out the garden – though the bursts of warm temps are surprisingly keeping the peppers and eggplant going, if not at a bit slower of a pace. And I’m still seeing many of these items still at market – but probably not for too much longer now.

Though they might not be in their prime anymore, that certainly doesn’t stop me from finding a use for them. You could should try the ratatouille, or you could do something even easier – just cook everything down in a big saute pot.

Yeah, that’s right. With some tomatoes in there to release their juices (don’t be afraid to use the green ones for a completely different, but still delicious flavor), it doesn’t take long for everything to break down and transform into one awesome vegetable sauce. Just start with some onions and garlic in oil. Add in whatever veggies you have. Season. Toss in some chopped herbs towards the end of cooking. And when it looks sauce-like, use however you want. If it still needs a little flavor, add a splash of vinegar, another pinch of salt, or a few more herbs.

Toss with pasta, fill up tacos, cover a pizza, serve over your favorite grain or just eat it plain. I’ve even freezed sauces like this with some success.

Whatever you do, just don’t let the last of those summer flavors go to waste!

Eggplant Curry

Eggplant is one of those foods, like summer squash, I often hear people say they don’t like. And, as usual, I tell them that they just haven’t had it prepared well. On it’s own, without any seasoning, eggplant can indeed be a little tasteless and bitter. But that’s exactly why we need to know how to handle and prepare this nightshade veggie for maximum flavor and health benefits – like the ton of fiber and manganese it contains. And, when done well, eggplant can rival the taste and texture of chicken – making it a vegetarian favorite.

I recommend peeling your eggplant, especially if it is a larger variety like Black Magic – the most common kind you’ll find in the United States, pictured at left in the first photo above – and especially if it is not at it’s peak freshness.

It’s often said you should salt eggplant and let it sit for 30 minutes or so in order for the water, and bitterness, to be released. I say go for it – if you have the time and have planned ahead. I often don’t. Having tried it both ways, I can’t say I see a significant difference in the end, especially in a dish like this.

Note: Since I had quite a few eggplants to get through when I took these photos, you’ll notice they did start to brown. But I wasn’t worried because they cooked in the curry sauce and no one ever noticed. 

Start with some garlic. Brown it just slightly in a medium sized pan with some olive oil for a couple of minutes. Then add in the eggplant and a few pinches of salt. You want to cook the eggplant, stirring often, until it starts to release some liquid, 5-10 minutes.

Next, in goes the curry powder, ginger and coconut milk. I’m a big fan of coconut milk sold in cartons like this. I use it for everything from plain drinking to smoothies to cooking. However, when coconut milk is called for in a recipe, it’s probably referring to the heavier, richer kind you’ll find in cans. I recommend keeping a few of these cans, found in the international section of your grocery store, on hand at all times. They’re shelf stable. The cartons are not. But the carton works for a lighter flavor, and if you’ll use it up like regular milk.

Keep simmering the eggplant for a good 25 minutes or more. Taste it as you go and see how it’s tasting. You’ll know it’s done cooking when it melts in your mouth. Adjust the seasoning as needed and throw in the remaining garlic just before finishing. And it’s good to go!

Want to add peppers? Onions? Or other veggies? Feel free to add them in when you add the eggplant. I kind of like the simplicity of the eggplant though.

 

Eggplant Curry

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds eggplant
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Peel the eggplant and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. Place oil and 1/2 of the garlic in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Two minutes later add the eggplant and a couple pinches of salt.
  3. Stir and toss constantly until after 5 or 10 minutes the eggplant begins to release some of the oil it has absorbed. Add in the curry powder/paste, coconut milk and ginger.
  4. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until eggplant is tender, about 30 minutes. About five minutes before it is done add the remaining garlic. Season. Garnish and serve over rice or another grain.

eggplant curry