Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ratatouille Days

Market Day: August 18
At this week's market: tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, melons, blueberries, raspberries, plums, peaches, greens, sweet peppers, hot peppers.

The peppers are in! I've been wandering the Davis Square Farmers' Market like a wraith for weeks, waiting for bell peppers. The past f
ew weeks, hot peppers had begun to appear, and I'd spot them across the market, getting wildly excited when I saw the flash of green skin, only to find my hopes dashed upon closer inspection.

Why, you ask, did I want sweet peppers so badly? A reasonable question, as the lack of peppers was probably overshadowed in your mind by the presence of the peaches, and the corn, and the tomatoes, and the blueberries, and all the other lovely things the market's had to offer. And it wasn't that I didn't appreciate all this, it's just that I'd been waiting since last summer to make ratatouille, and to do that, you need peppers.
Luckily, this week, the gods smiled on me and peppers appeared. I scampered home and made ratatouille for dinner; I recommend you do the same.

Adapted from Chez Panisse Cooking
A note: those who love ratatouille tend to have strong opinions on how to make it. These opinions fall into two main camps: the stew school of thought and the saute school of thought. The stew-lovers tend to cook all the vegetables together, with a long simmering time at the end. The saute fans tend to cook each vegetable separately and then combine everything at
the end. There are merits to both approaches, but I fall into the second camp: why would you collect all of summer's best vegetables and then cook them to death? The benefit of cooking all the vegetables separately, although it may seem fussy, is that each retains its own flavor; the short time cooking everything at the end means that the flavors meld without becoming indistinguishable.


4 slim eggplants, skin left on, sliced into rounds 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water large yellow onion, sliced
4 bell peppers, cut into strips

2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 mixed zucchini and summer squash, sliced into rounds 1/4 inch thick

4 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 tbsp capers

4 tbsp pitted green olives, chopped

2 tsbp fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 cloves garlic, minced extra virgin olive oil


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Salt and pepper the eggplant lightly and toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Place in a baking dish with the water, then cover and bake for about half an hour, or until soft to the touch.
2. Meanwhile, saute the onions in a large saucepot in a few tablespoons of the remaining olive oil until it softens, then add the peppers and season with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat, stirring often, until both the peppers and onions are well browned. Add the vinegar and cook one minute more. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.

3. Add a few more tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and saute the squashes until both sides are dark brown.

4. Remove the eggplant from the oven and discard any liquid left in the baking dish. Put the eggplant, along with all the other vegetables, back into the saucepot, and add the tomatoes. At this point, the vegetables should not be stirred any more than is necessary or they will break up and spoil the presentation. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-high heat for two minutes. If the mixture is extremely juicy, pour the liquid into a saute pan and cook it until it thickens.

5. Remove the pot from the heat and let the ratatouille cool. Then add the capers, olive, parsley, basil, and garlic. Taste and add more vinegar, salt, or pepper, if necessary. Before serving, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over each portion.

Ratatouille is very good served cool or cold, and it is even better the next day. Serve it over rice on its own, or with fish or lamb.

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