Tuesday, September 6, 2016

End of Summer Ratatouille - Caity

The end of summer seems to have happened over the last week or two. It has brought cooler temperatures (thank god) and earlier evenings. The swimming pool doesn't open til 4 PM on weekdays (pffffff) and there are about a million "back to school" photos flooding my Facebook. Part of me is always sad that summer really is over and the other part of me is so excited for the fall!

 For the last several years, I've cooked an "End of Summer Ratatouille" to celebrate the end-of-summer produce while enjoying the fact that it's not too hot to turn on the stove. This tradition began for me, three years ago in Portland when my mom came to visit Brendan and I in late August. I was working nightshift at the time and I picked my mom up at the airport after work in the morning, went home and slept while she entertained herself. I woke up that evening to go to work and my wonderful mother had cleaned our house, picked our garden and packed me a gourmet lunch of Summer Zucchini Noodle Salad and Ratatouille served over Goat Cheese and Truffle Oil Polenta. Since then it has been an August/September staple in our house! 

If you aren't familiar with Ratatouille, it is a silky French stewed vegetable dish, usually served with dinner. It can have a reputation as rather fussy to make which is why I like this particular recipe which comes from The Kitchn. It doesn't involve any vegetable peeling. The peels go into the stew with all the rest. More fiber, less effort and extra delicious!  Serve as a side dish to chicken or fish, or as a main course over cous cous or polenta (my favorite way to make the polenta is with goat cheese and truffle oil stirred in at the end). 

Makes 8 to 10 servings (this recipe can be cut in half if you don't need so many servings!)

what you'll need: 

2 large eggplants
2 medium yellow onions
3 medium red bell peppers (I know I used green, but red makes it very colorful!) 
6 to 8 medium zucchini
4 large tomatoes
1-1/2 to 2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs of thyme
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil, sliced into ribbons
Extra basil for garnish
Salt and Pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)

Chop the eggplant into 1 inch cubes. Transfer them to a strainer and set over a bowl. Toss with a Tbsp of salt. Let the eggplant sig while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. 

Dice the onions and roughly chop the peppers, zucchinis and tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Mince the garlic. Place each ingredient in a separate bowl because you will be cooking each one separately. 

Warm a teaspoon of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pot (at least 5-1/2 quart) over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt. Saute for about 10 minutes until the onions have softened and are just beginning to brown. Add the peppers and continue cooking for about 5 minutes until the peppers have also softened. Transfer the onions and peppers to a large clean bowl. 

Add another teaspoon of olive oil to the pot and saute the zucchini with a generous pinch of salt for about 5 minutes until the zucchini has softened and is beginning to brown. Transfer the zucchini to the bowl with the onions and peppers. 

Rinse the eggplant under running water and gently squeeze the cubes with your hands to remove as much of the moistures as possible. Warm two teaspoons of oil in the pan and saute the eggplant for about 10 minutes until it has softened and has begun to turn translucent. Transfer the eggplant to the bowl with the other vegetables. 

During cooking, a brown glaze may gradually build up on the bottom of the pan. If it looks like the glaze is beginning to blacken and burn, turn down the heat to medium. You can also dissolve the glaze between batches by pouring 1/4 cup of water or wine into the pan and scraping up the glaze. Pour the liquid into the bowl with the vegetables. 

Warm another teaspoon of olive oil in the pan and saute the garlic about 1 minute until it is fragrant and just starting to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf and whole sprigs of thyme. As the tomato juices begin to bubble, scrape up the brown glaze on the bottom of the pan. 

Return all of the vegetables back to the pan and stir until everything is evenly mixed. Bring the stew to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low. Check the seasonings and add salt and pepper as needed. If desired, mix in a few good shakes of red pepper flakes. Stir occasionally and simmer for at least 20 minutes or up to 1-1/2 hours. Shorter cooking times will leave the vegetables in larger, more distinct pieces; longer cooking times will break the vegetables down into a silky stew. I cooked this batch for an hour and a half. 

Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Just before taking the ratatouille off the heat, stir in the basil. Sprinkle each bowl with the extra basil and a glug of good olive oil as you serve. 

Leftovers can be refrigerated for a week or frozen up to 3 months. Ratatouille is often better the second day and can be eater cold, room temperature or heated. 

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