Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Plate of Ratatouille with grated cheese
Lunch, Dinner, Main Dish, or Side Dish

Recipe by Robin

A few years back, our CSA went a bit crazy with eggplant. Italian eggplant, Japanese eggplant, large eggplant, small eggplant, our farm share was loaded with these every week throughout the summer. Unfortunately, my husband Bruce hated eggplant: its puffy yet squishy texture, its bitterness, even the mere idea of eggplant. Luckily, during those same summer weeks we received plenty of tomatoes and peppers from our CSA, and a mondo load of zucchini from our neighbor Dana. I started making huge batches of ratatouille, which is basically a sauté of these four veggies along with onions and garlic. At first I chopped the eggplant finer than the other veggies, thinking that Bruce would notice it less and be more likely to enjoy the dish. This strategy worked beautifully, and throughout the summer I increased the size of the eggplant pieces. Ratatouille became a favorite dinner for both of us. Especially since it’s filling and my recipe is very low in calories.

Adding Eggplant to the Skillet of Sauteing Veggies
It's All About Eggplant
And then, irony of ironies, just as we became eggplant enthusiasts, the next two summers our CSA share was virtually eggplant-free. We finally received 3 small Italian eggplants this year—in October! I’ve scaled back my huge recipe, which fed many a group of visiting musicians in 2010.  This recipe serves about 4 – 6, or possibly more, depending upon whether it’s served as a main dish (over grains or baked spaghetti squash, for example), or a side dish to accompany a meal. The spaghetti squash meal option makes a filling yet low-calorie, veggie-rich lunch or dinner, topped with a bit of Parmesan cheese.

Adding Tomatoes to the Skillet Saute
It's Also About Tomatoes
One more word for eggplant non-enthusiasts: have you tried farm-fresh local eggplant? It’s true that large, commercially farmed eggplant can be bitter and tough. Smaller local eggplant can be surprisingly flavorful and not bitter at all. But if you do need to use up a large, tough eggplant, you can use my Mom’s method of leaching out the bitterness, as well as draining some of the excess liquid that can make your ratatouille soggy. Dice the eggplant into larger pieces than my recipe says, about 1-inch cubes. Place them in a colander and toss with about ½ teaspoon salt. Let them drain in the sink for about ½ hour. Blot them with a towel to dry, then add to the recipe as usual. 

All Veggies Measured and Chopped, plus Wine, Herbs, and Olive Oil
Gather and Chop Ingredients Beforehand
Feel free to improvise with this recipe. For example, I’ve added non-traditional mushrooms, wine, and a jalapeno or two, as well as dried oregano and thyme. You might eliminate any of those, or change up the proportions of eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes, depending on what’s on hand or in your garden. Increase the amount of tomatoes if you prefer more liquid (or skip draining off the liquid and seeds), for example if you’re serving the ratatouille over grains or pasta. Any kind or color of sweet pepper will work fine, but green and red bells are traditional (I used Hungarian wax peppers and unknown red variety). Or try another kind of summer squash in place of all or part of the zucchini.

If you have fresh herbs, use three times the amount of dried herbs the recipe calls for and add them with tomatoes. Basil, marjoram, or even rosemary is sometimes used instead of thyme or oregano. Although some ratatouille recipes contain large amounts of olive oil, it’s not necessary. However, for flavor and ease of cooking, you might choose to add another tablespoon of oil.

A note on pronunciation: say ra-ta-twee’. It seems (to a non-French speaker) that the Disney movie pronounced a more anglicized version of the word. Give a listen here for the real (French) thing.

Or Go Vegan with Basil Garnish
serves 4 - 6

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
1 – 2 jalapeno or padrone peppers (optional)
¼ - ½ lb. mushrooms (optional)
½ lb. red, yellow, and/or green sweet pepper
1¼ lb. Italian eggplant
¼ cup red wine
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. garlic salt
1¼ lb. zucchini
¾ - 1 lb. tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil or chive leaves (optional garnish)
Fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional garnish)

To avoid overcooking ratatouille, prepare and chop all ingredients before beginning to sauté:

Chop onions into ~ ½ inch dice.
Press or mince garlic.
Remove jalapeno seeds and stems, and mince jalapenos.
Slice mushrooms thinly ~1/8 inch.
Dice bell peppers and eggplant about 1 x ½ inch.
Cut zucchini in half or quarters lengthwise (depending on size), and cut into ½ inch slices.
Dice tomatoes into ~½ inch pieces. Drain off excess seeds and liquid that accumulate on cutting board (including some seeds in the dish make it more flavorful).

Heat medium large sauté pan or electric frying pan on medium high, about 400 degrees F. Add olive oil. Sauté onions until golden, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and jalapenos. Sauté until fragrant, 1 minute or less.

Add mushrooms. Sauté, stirring frequently until mushroom liquid sweats out and evaporates, and until they’re slightly brown, about 4 minutes.

Add sweet peppers and sauté till slightly limp, about 3 minutes.

Add eggplant, and stir to coat with oil. Add dried oregano, dried thyme, and garlic salt. Stir and sauté 1 - 2 minutes. Stir in wine. Lower heat to medium low, cover, and cook about 3 - 4 minutes, until eggplant starts to soften.

Add zucchini and sauté, stirring every few minutes, until eggplant and zucchini are half-done, about 8 minutes. If veggies seem too dry and in danger of burning, you can add another tablespoon of wine or a spoonful of oil. The idea, however, is to have the zucchini and eggplant steam slowly in their own juices.

When zucchini and eggplant are semi-tender, add tomatoes. Increase heat and bring to simmer, then cover again and turn heat down to medium low, about 300 degrees in electric frying pan.

Continue cooking, stirring every few minutes, until eggplant and zucchini are tender, about 10 more minutes. Stir in salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serve garnished with fresh basil or chive leaves.  Or serve topped with grated cheese.

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