|Ratatouille - Not just a movie...|
|Right Food for the Season - Early Fall|
|Written by R. Patrick Kent|
As the last of the zucchini, summer squash and eggplant came in these past few weeks I made my favorite late summer / early fall dish - ratatouille. Before it was a cartoon, it was just classic French comfort food and the epitome of seasonal cooking. Traditional ratatouille is made with tomato, eggplant, zucchini and/or summer squash. In the past I have found that the acidity of the tomatoes dominates the dish. For my version I dialed up the eggplant and dialed down the tomato which, I believe, makes the dish more "stick-to-your-ribs" delicious. I adjusted the acidity near the end with a little red wine vinegar which adds some deeper complexity. The traditional recipe calls for Herbes de Provence (dried savory, fennel, basil, thyme, lavender, etc.) I do keep some around the house but it's not a staple in everyone's kitchen. For this dish I think fresh thyme and some dried fennel and basil is enough the get the flavors right.
Vegetable sizes vary so I'll write this up in ratios. Cut the vegetables into roughly 3/4 inch to 1 inch pieces. 2 parts eggplant, 2 parts zucchini (and/or summer squash,) 1 part tomato, 1 part onion and red/green pepper and one clove of garlic.
Heat a large pan on medium/ high heat. Add several tablespoons of olive oil. Test the heat by throwing a small piece of eggplant into the pan. If it quietly sizzles, it's ready to go. Add the eggplant and saute for 5 minutes or so until it is lightly browned and softening. Add the rest of the vegetables to the pan with a little more olive oil (the eggplant has a tendency to soak up what was there.) Season with salt and pepper and add the herbs and the garlic, crushed or diced. The amount of herb to use varies with the volume of the dish but I would basically use about 1/4 teaspoon each of fennel and basil and maybe 1/2 tablespoon of fresh thyme (one teaspoon if dried) for a medium/large size pan. Stir occasionally and cook until the vegetables are all soft. Add a splash of red wine vinegar near the end and stir it into the vegetables.
This works great as a side dish to chicken or a hearty fish. However, paired with a crusty french bread, I think it makes an entire meal.