October 9th, 2013
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I love October. I love everything about it, from it’s blazing maples and fiery Sumac to the clear, crisp nights of abundant stars, the scent of woodsmoke floating on the chilled air. I love that switch to snugglier clothes and another blanket on the bed. I love a simmering soup pot, a pan of fragrant cornbread, baking with apples and fresh-pressed, rich apple cider
I just LOVE October!
I haven’t always loved Ratatouille, though. And I’ve made it multiple ways that have been OK, to an extent, but haven’t been so wonderful that I jumped at a chance to repeat the recipe. Yet every year, when the abundance of zucchini and eggplant and tomato is all there, ready and waiting to be slowly cooked together in this classic peasant dish, I always want to try something again.
There are so many ways to make a simple dish like this.
This recipe I would repeat. Over and over again. While it is a bit extensive, with the grilling and the simmering, the end result is well worth the extra effort. This Ratatouille was silky smooth and simply melted in my mouth, with hints of smokiness from the grill. And as all good dishes go, it was even better the next day.
This recipe does not use fresh tomatoes, and I love the rich flavor that fire-roasted canned tomatoes gives it. Feel free to use fresh if you wish, knowing you will lose some of that smoky taste if you do.
Ratatouille, Grilled and Simmered
3 small zucchini, sliced horizontally
1 medium eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ slices
2 medium onions, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 each red, yellow and orange bell pepper, gutted and halved
1 28-oz can fire roasted tomatoes (strongly suggested for the amazing flavor they will add- sub in fresh if you wish)
1/2 c. good quality olive oil
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. mixed fresh herbs, like oregano, thyme, parsley, basil, all finely minced
2 t. smoked paprika (smoked is preferred; use regular if it’s all you have)
Salt and pepper
Whisk the olive oil and balsamic vinegar together in a measuring cup. Brush a small amount on one side of the eggplant slices, being careful not to spread on too much. Brush some on the zucchini and reserve the remaining oil/vinegar mix for later.
In a 6-qt stockpot, heat a small drizzle of olive oil and add the sliced onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are opaque. Add the garlic, reduce the heat and cook, stirring often, until the onions and garlic are very soft.
While the onions cook, heat your grill, and when hot, place the peppers, skin side down on the hottest part. Add the sliced zucchini and eggplant, and cook until tender and slightly charred for all vegetables. Place peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam so you can remove the skin. Rough chop the zucchini and eggplant and add to the pan with the onions, stirring to combine. Drizzle in a small amount of the oil/vinegar mix to moisten and add the smoked paprika. When cool enough to handle, skin the peppers and rough chop those, adding to the pan, along with the can of tomatoes. Stir everything, get it simmering, then reduce the heat and cover the pan. Allow it to cook, slowly, for 30 minutes. Stir it once or twice to insure it isn’t sticking. Reduce heat if it is, and drizzle a bit more of the oil/vinegar mix in, if needed.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add in half the fresh herbs. Allow to simmer about 5 more minutes. Stir, taste and season more, if needed. Serve warm or room temperature, over brown rice or pasta, or with a thick, hearty bread to soak up the juices.
KATE’S NOTES: I am nuts for fire-roasted tomatoes and have tried multiple brands, always coming back to Muir Glen Organic. The taste is bar none for a canned product- it tastes like tomato right off the vine! You can use fresh tomato in this dish if that’s your thing, but the extra fire-roasted taste will lend well to the final result, along with the grilled and charred vegetables.
The smoked paprika also adds a nice deep, smoky flavor, and has been one of my most favorite spices to add to just about everything lately. You will get a much different taste if you use regular paprika.
September 20th, 2011
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Summer ends when the season ends, some time in the midst of every September. The 22nd? 21st? The sun crosses a time line and the word ‘summer’ is an afterthought, yet for most people, Labor Day signals the official end of the best season Minnesota has to offer. I’m more optimistic. I like to step outside the box, and while others are saying ‘Fall’ when school buses roll down the streets again, I’m still crowing ‘Summer’. I will gracefully extend my white flag of surrender to that mentality, that a season can be marked by milestones instead of days on a calendar, while I straddle the seasons, try to push summer to extend just a bit farther.
It’s not hard to do when a plate of this Roasted Ratatouille is staring back at you, loaded with late summer tomatoes softened to a deeply flavorful mass, chunks of hearty zucchini and eggplants so perfectly round and unblemished that they look false and plastic, yet yield to a tender flesh so delicious it makes your eyes roll back. I can have my face in Summer, my cheeks enjoying the warmth of the days, while my head and heart charge towards Fall, cool air, a warm humming oven and a comforting meal when the air chills and sweatshirts come out.
This dish, once again as is the case with so many in my adult years, was not something I’ve loved forever, and maybe that’s part of it’s appeal. My Mom used to make Ratatouille when I was young, and my sisters ate it but it always turned me off completely. That which held ruby red tomato and a vegetable with the word ‘egg’ in it just sounded like it would be horrible. I was a picky child mostly due to texture issues, as I have learned; foods like mushrooms, tomato, squashes of all kinds and especially eggplant (an egg? a plant?) are now foods that sweep themselves across my plate on a regular basis, bursting with flavor when once they would make me shudder. I’m so glad to have grown up to learn of their wonder.
Roasting vegetables is quite possibly my most favorite way to eat them, except for right off the vine. With an enormous bounty of fresh from the Farmers Market zucchini and onions, and the aforementioned eggplants, along with the fattest and juiciest Black Krim heirloom tomatoes to come out of my tiny postage stamp garden, this dish was so loaded with flavor that it made my eyes water in joy. Tomato flavor intensified from the heat of the oven, while the eggplant and zucchini became tender-crisp and then just to make it more interesting, I mix everything together and let it sit overnight in the fridge, just to tease a bit more flavor out, a deeper marriage of September’s taste of the vine. The bowl needed nothing else; no salt or pepper, no added oil or seasoning. Topped with the amazing find of crisp strips of chive thrown on top of the vegetables on a whim, it was a dish that slowly spread a Cheshire grin over my face with each bite.
What a personality too. There’s no stodginess involved here, no set way to consume such a meal; we ate this mixed with pearl couscous (because I am, truly, having a love affair with those tiny grains of pasta) and we ate it atop heady and aromatic polenta studded with corn kernels and flecks of fresh herbs. It would be just at home too, stuffed inside a crisp and warm baguette, layered with provolone cheese for an incredible, messy delicious sandwich. Serve it on rice, or with a simple risotto. Warm it slightly and place it on garlicky crostini for a hearty appetizer or light meal. Or toss it, chilled, with greens and a shower of fresh grated asiago cheese for a salad unlike any other. Mix it with pasta, please; make sure you add a good turn of hard cheese. And if you find yourself late at night, in the kitchen with a fork in hand, a few dips in to the bowl while no one is watching is ok too.
And are you like every other gardener in the state- a pile of chives growing in your garden that you don’t know what to do with? I foolishly planted chives many years ago, which went to seed without me doing anything about it (big, BIG mistake) and now, well now I am fighting off chives with a blowtorch practically, and did you know that if you pluck them they just grow faster? Neither did I, but I’m learning that the hard way. Another thing I learned about chives is that you can blast them to kingdom come with Round-Up, but the little buggers just come back, shiny green and taunting. I’ve learned to hate chives, but a handful of them tossed atop these roasting vegetables made for a crispy and delicious garnish that just might make me a bit softer towards this evil relentless herb. Surprise awaits in the strangest places, doesn’t it?
Roasted Ratatouille with Crispy Chives
2-3 medium tomatoes
1 large eggplant
3-4 small zucchini or yellow squash (2 if they’re larger)
1 large red onion
3 garlic cloves
A generous handful of fresh chives
Olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Preheat your oven to 400°. Slice the tomatoes into quarters and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with about a tablespoon of good olive oil, sprinkle with a bit of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper. Place pan in hot oven and roast, watching carefully, until the tomatoes begin to soften and the skins wrinkle. You want them to retain much of their shape, but release some of their luscious juices. I don’t roast them for more than 10-15 minutes at that temp. Remove the pan and allow them to cool, then slip the skins off.
Dice the zucchini and eggplant, slice the onion and crush the garlic, placing all of these on two baking sheets. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, add salt and pepper and roast until the vegetables begin to soften, about 15 minutes. Stir carefully, then return pan to oven for about 10 more minutes. Scatter chives over the top of the vegetables, then roast about 10 minutes more, or until the chives are crisp and toasty, but not black and charred. Remove pans and allow vegetables to cool.
In a large bowl, combine tomato (with any juice from the roasting pan), eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic and about a third of the crispy chives, reserving the rest for garnish. Gently mix together (I like to use my hands to avoid breaking everything down), taste and season with more salt and pepper if desired. The ratatouille can be eaten as is, warm or at room temp. For deeper flavor, chill the mixture overnight, and allow to warm to room temp the next day before serving.