Main Attraction, Vegetable Side Dishes

Slow-Down September Ratatouille

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I have to say that I really struggled to get sit down and get this recipe written. I’m moving in a bunch of different directions and am having trouble focusing on one task at a time! Luckily, yesterday when I dropped off Kitchen Party Cookbooks at Stirling’s Farm Market, a beautiful pile of shiny purple eggplants caught my eye. I made them into ratatouille, a long-cooking mixture of silky-textured vegetables. Sweet with peppers and onions, fragrant from the slivers of garlic and a generous pour of olive oil, and with the unparalleled texture of luscious eggplant, this is a sensuous dish to relax in the kitchen with. And it’s very, very simple, with results that are much more than the sum of its parts.

I feel my pulse slowing even as I write these words.
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Slow-Down-September Ratatouille
While dicing the eggplant gives a more consistent result, I love the texture of slices of eggplant. Actually, the first time I tested this I cut half the eggplant into dice and half into slices! Do whatever you think you’ll like the best (slices are easier to pick out if there are fussy eaters at the table). Ratatouille is delicious at any temperature, so go ahead and make it well ahead of time. Feta cheese, capers, black olives, chopped parsley or thinly sliced basil leaves are lovely enhancements, though not at all necessary.
1 large Eggplant (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
another 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 large Onion, thickly sliced (1/3 inch)
1 Red or Orange Bell Pepper, thickly sliced (1/3 inch)
1 medium Zucchini, thinly sliced (1/4 inch)
4 cloves garlic, sliced as fine as you can
another 1/2 teaspoon of Salt
6 Plum Tomatoes (about 3/4 pound), cut in 1/2 inch dice
Maybe a little more Olive Oil
Cut the eggplant into 3/4 inch dice, or if you prefer, into thin slices  Pile into a bowl and sprinkle with the first teaspoon of salt and leave to sit while you prepare the onions, peppers, zucchini, garlic and tomatoes.
After 10 minutes or so, the salt will have drawn some of the eggplant juices to the surface. Dry the eggplant pieces with a clean towel-I just dump the bowl out onto a towel and pat dry, no need to fuss over this. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. When it’s good and hot, add the first two tablespoons of olive oil and swirl the plan to coat. Add the eggplant in a single layer-you may have cook it in batches, especially if you’ve elected to go with the slices. Let the eggplant pieces brown on one side, then turn, giving the eggplant a good minute or so to cook on each side before messing with it. Once the eggplant is browned, put it back in the bowl you salted it in.
Return the pan to the stove and reduce the heat to low. Add the last two tablespoons of olive oil, along with the onions and peppers. Give it a quick stir, then cover the pan and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the onions are tender and caramelized, about 7-9 minutes.
Add the zucchini, garlic and salt, cover again, and let cook another 3-5 minutes, stirring once a minute or so, until the zucchini is tender.
Add the tomatoes, stir gently and replace the cover. Reduce the heat to as low as it goes. Let the ratatouille cook slowly, stirring every few minutes, until all the vegetables are tender, at least ten minutes but you can actually simmer it much longer if you have time. Taste and add a little more salt and maybe a few more tablespoons of olive oil if it doesn’t already taste incredible. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, until serving time.