Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Ratatouille

Everybody knows ratatouille, right? Especially after the release of the movie by the same name. But it wasn't always that way. The first eggplant I ever saw was when I was about 4. We were living in Mexico, and Francisco, the ancient* gardener at the house we were staying in had some growing in the garden. I was fascinated by them - so big and voluptuously shaped, so shiny, so purple! I was sure they would be fabulous. Francisco gave one to us, and the resulting grey slimy mess after my parents cooked it was a bitter disappointment to us all. Literally. Well, they had never really seen one before either, I don't think. They (eggplants, not my parents) just weren't something to be found in the groceries of Ontario at that time.

We didn't have another eggplant for about 10 years. Then eggplants started to be available in Ontario and Mom aquired that seminal cookbook of the time, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she made the ratatouille recipe in it. The clear instructions on cooking, particularly the advice on salting and draining the eggplant to remove the bitter compounds, created quite a different experience. Eggplant, we discovered, was good. Ever since then when I get an eggplant, the first thing I think of making is ratatouille.

Our modern recipe is more relaxed and rustic than Julia Child's, but it's still very good. It's absolutely perfect for using all the vegetables of early fall. To make it even easier, a number of varieties of eggplant are now available, many of which are not nearly as bitter - if at all- as those earlier ones. There's a lot of oil in this, so a good quality one is important.

4 servings
1 hour prep time

Ratatouille
1 medium eggplant
2 medium zucchini
1 medium-large onion
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
6 large tomatoes
1 medium sweet/mild pepper, just about any kind you like
- Red Shepherd are good for this
1/4 cup olive oil, more or less
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
2 bay leaves

Peel the eggplant, and cut it into 1/4" slices, which should then be cut into bite-sized pieces. Wash and slice the zucchini into pieces of about the same size. Sprinkle them both generously with salt, and set them aside in a colander to drain for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Core and chop the tomatoes (peel them first, if you like.) Deseed and chop the pepper.

Sauté the onion and pepper gently in about a tablespoon of oil. When it is soft and the onions are turning golden, add the garlic and cook for a couple minutes more. Remove them to a stove-top casserole or heavy-bottomed pot. Add the tomatoes to them, and turn the heat on to low. Simmer them gently while you rinse and dry the eggplant and zucchini.

Sauté the eggplant in 3 or 4 tablespoons of oil. (I always try to use less, and it always doesn't work. Eggplant is just a sponge for oil, and if there isn't enough, it will scorch rather than browning nicely.) When it is nicely browned (because you have used enough oil) add it to the stewing vegetables. Cook together for about 10 minutes until well amalgamated. Add a smidge of water if it seems like it might stick or scorch.

Now sauté the zucchini, again fairly gently, until lightly browned throughout. Add it to the stew and simmer for 5 minutes more. I like to do it this way because the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes become soft and stewy, but the zucchini still retains a bit of crunch and greenness.

Good hot, warm or cool as a salad, as a main dish with rice and a bit of cheese, or topped with a poached or fried egg, otherwise as a side dish to roast or broiled meat.





*He really was ancient. He was, I think, over 100 years old - surely not!?** - but he had been a drummer boy in the Mexican revolution, that I do know for sure. If only I had known, at 4, how to really talk to him, what a chance that would have been!

**No. Funny the things one gets told as a child and just accepts as gospel. A little arithmetic tells me he couldn't have been much above 70. Somebody was pulling my leg. Well he did seem as old as the hills to a 4 year old. Even so, the history he had seen...

5 comments:

Lori E said...

Hello.
I have spent the day making salsa from your recipe. It smells divine as I listen to the popping of the lids as they seal.
I would like to post about this recipe on my site with a link back to your recipe if that is okay with you. I don't wish to post the recipe necessarily just the finished product with the link to your site. Is that alright with you?
Lori E
www.familytreesmaycontainnuts.com

Ferdzy said...

Lori, sure that's fine. I'd be very happy for you to do that.

Joanne said...

Seeing as how I don't live in a hole, I have heard of ratatouille but have actually never had it! My mom has never successfully cooked with eggplant so for most of my life it was solely something that you ordered in restaurants. Now I love cooking it myself! Have you ever had an eggplant caponata? It is similar to a ratatouille but with more intense balsamic vinegary flavors. I bet you would love it.

Ferdzy said...

Joanne, I've had caponata, but I don't know that I've had eggplant caponata. Something to try. It sounds good.

Kevin said...

That ratatouille looks nice and tasty! Great way to enjoy the late summer vegetables!