Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ratatouille: French Provençal medley of summer vegetables

We’ve been away on vacation (from which several recipes will eventually show up in blog postings), and my writing has been delinquent. But the season is already passing into late mid-summer, and our restaurant and deli in Athens opens back up tomorrow, my Evening-at-Emory cooking classes begin next week, and I'm cooking a lot.

Produce is more plentiful. And with all the summer vegetables coming in, it’s a great time for that delicious vegetable medley, ratatouille, which can be served either hot as the vegetable in a meal, or cold on the buffet or picnic table. In either case, it can be made ahead, so lunch or dinner time is easier.

A classic, ratatouille (ra-ta-tóo-ee) is from Provençe, in the south of France. Like much of Mediterranean cuisine, this dish is as vibrant and complex in flavor as it is colorful with the bright hues of summer. The cooking “trick” is soaking the cut eggplant in salted water before sautéing to remove its bitterness. The recipe serves six generously. Wines that would go well with this are fruity and DRY, and served slightly (for reds) to very (for rosés) chilled. If French and red, they would include Côtes du Rhône or a Grenache (Garnacha if Spanish) or a dry rosé such as Côtes de Provençe or Rosé d’Anjou.

Ratatouille Tim

1 small-medium sized eggplant
4 small zucchini
1 medium sweet red pepper
1 medium onion
1 large stalk celery
2 medium-large tomatoes
1 medium-large clove of garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 large pinch rosemary leaves (fresh preferred)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons capers
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

Wash the eggplant and cut off the stem. Peel off four lengthwise strips of skin, leaving part of the skin in between. Cut eggplant lengthwise into quarters, through the peeled part. Cut the quarters into chunks 1-inch long. Soak eggplant 20-30 minutes in well-salted water to remove the bitter juices. Cut the zucchini crosswise into 3/4-inch slices (if the zucchini are more than 1-1/2 inches wide, cut them in half lengthwise before slicing). Core the red pepper and cut flesh into 1-inch squares. Chop the onions coarsely. Cut the celery into 1/2-inch lengths on a slight diagonal. Mince the garlic. Quarter the tomato, push out the seeds with your fingers, and cut the tomato into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and gently fry the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and celery and fry gently for 2 minutes. Drain eggplant pieces and add them plus the zucchini to the pan. Stir and fry 2-3 minutes, adding a little water to keep from sticking. Add the red bell pepper plus the black pepper, oregano, paprika, thyme, and rosemary, a half teaspoon salt, and several tablespoons of water. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are becoming tender (15-20 min). Add the tomatoes and a little salt. When the vegetables are tender, stir in the capers. Taste and if necessary add a little more salt. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, sugar, and parsley.

This can be served hot, or cooled and served warm or room temperature later. When serving, drizzle with a little olive oil and chopped parsley.

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