Sunday 21 July 2013

Ratatouille Nicoise

East coast weather has lately been giving us one heck of a summer. From the strange cloudy days the season began with, to the scorching heat wave we've experienced in the last week (43 degrees, that's celsius to you Americans) we've been on quite the roller coaster.  Thankfully although I'm no particular fan of heat waves -or hot weather in general- I know for a fact that tomatoes enjoy a good scorcher. This knowledge has provided those of us who've been scuttling from shadow to shadow, bolting towards any available air conditioning or lying lazily in front of a fan, with some solace, knowing that nasty heat means that yummy produce is on the way. With weather like this, followed by the torrential rain guaranteed by our post-heatwave thunderstorms we can rest assured that this year's tomato crop will be plump, juicy and most importantly tasty! Much as I love to gorge on fresh tomatoes, preferably with a dash of salt and pepper, a plop of olive oil and every now and then some fresh cheese, there eventually comes time where there are just too many tomatoes to be eaten before they go bad. This my friends, is the moment where the spotlight shines on this provencal delicacy.

Pixar animated rats aside, Ratatouille one of those heavily contested dishes where variations are endless and preparation, as well as ingredients are hotly disputed. Thankfully, the New York Times has a lovely version from which mine is inspired. I've altered the recipe significantly to fit my taste as well as suit what my garden (and the market) provide. Healthy, delicious and smooth as velvet, a huge pot of ratatouille is the perfect end to a substantial harvest of tomatoes or the perfect home for some, should you pick an overwhelmingly large box up from the farmer's market. It's is an excellent summer dish, best made when your vegetables are in season (though in a pinch, jarred tomatoes can be used shhhhh I won't tell anyone). What is perhaps most important when you cook this dish is that it must contain piles of FRESH herbs. Without anything unhealthy as a flavour crutch, Ratatouille relies on prime herbs and veg to really shine.

 Oh almost forgot! Best part? The fact that it's mushy and that it improves the longer it sits, means that ratatouille is 100% freezer friendly so it'll happily grace your table in mid February providing a little summer pizzaz to an otherwise dreary winter day. Serve as a main with crusty bread, on pasta, stuffed in a savoury crepe as a side with a light supper or even on a homemade crouton with some creme fraiche. Don't be afraid to change the quantities of veg, adding a bit more of what you like most after you've gotten a handle on the recipe, ratatouille is as adaptable on the stove as it is on the plate.

Brace yourselves people, tomato season is coming.


-1/4 c. fruity olive oil
-One large eggplant (about 2 lbs)
-4 zucchini
-2 green peppers
-2 yellow onions
-4 cloves of garlic
-3-4 Plump tomatoes (or a cup and a half to 2 cups tomato puree, preferably naturally sweet Italian tomatoes like San Marzano)
-2 bay leaves
-2 sprigs of basil
-2 sprigs of lemon thyme
-Salt and pepper to taste

The method that follows uses the slightly express version which I find suitably delicious. Some purists claim that all vegetables in a ratatouille MUST be cooked separately. If you have the time and patience, empty the pot each time you cook a veggie so that each is cooked separately, this also means rationing out your oil a tad more thoroughly so reconsider the following directions accordingly!

1) Crush garlic and dice all vegetable, keep in mind that you want to get a variety of veggies on your spoon/fork/eating implement of choice
2) Salt eggplant generously, let sit in a colander to drain for about 15 minutes
3) Meanwhile, heat half the oil on medium, coat onions and cook until soft
4) Add garlic and mix until fragrant
5) Add Zucchini, cook until liquid has mostly run out, rinse eggplant and add with some more oil, reducing heat to low, season with salt and pepper
6) When eggplant has softened and mixture has begun to stick add tomato and juice, this will unstick the veggies from the pot
7) If too thick and still sticking don't hesitate to add a tad of water or chicken stock
8) Bruise herbs by slapping them against your palm until very fragrant, remove any portion of the stalk that is tough and chop remaining leaves, add to the vegetables mixture.
9) Cook on low, adding water or stock if mixture begins to stick, cook for at least another 30 minutes
10) Enjoy!

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