Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Too Much Garden Bounty? Ratatouille to the Rescue!

If you have ever found yourself having too much of a good thing at the same time (i.e., tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and eggplant), then ratatouille can be the gardener’s best friend. While tomatoes can be canned or frozen, peppers can be pickled and zucchini can be frozen, it can be difficult to successfully preserve eggplant. However, ratatouille – a vegetarian stew popular in the Mediterranean region of Europe -- freezes very well and can be a welcome surprise on a cold winter evening.

In my Ohio world, my Mediterranean eggplants do not ripen until September – months after my zucchini has given up the ghost. However, asian eggplants taste the same and ripen simultaneously with zucchini. Then, it’s only a question of whether any of my bell peppers turn red in time (or I have to cheat and buy them at the grocery).

I have four different recipes for ratatouille, from The Silver Palate to Moosewood, but here is the gist:

Equal parts chopped eggplant and zucchini (although some recipes call for more of one than the other. You can use your discretion). On Monday, I used 8 small eggplants and then chopped up an equal amount of giant zucchinis from my refrigerator. Some recipes call for cubing the vegetables, but I like them in strips.

Other Ingredients:
Two green bell peppers, sliced.
Two red bell peppers, sliced.
Olive Oil
½ cup chopped Parsley
¼ cup chopped Bail
4 tablespoons chopped Oregano
Medium Onion chopped
6 cups of chopped tomatoes
Red wine (optional everywhere but my house)
½ cup Tomato paste (although I usually omit this because I hate the thought of not making it from scratch).

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium high heat. (I use my giant wok since I make so much, but you can use a smaller pot if you make less). Add the wine if you’re in the mood.

Add the eggplant, stirring occasionally to keep it from burning, until it is soft. (Try not to let it disintegrate or you can lose that eggplant flavor and texture). Some recipes call for baking the eggplant first, but what’s the point of dirtying another dish when this works as well? I usually chop up the zucchini and peppers while the eggplant is softening in the pan.

Add the chopped peppers and stir.

Add the chopped basil, parsley and oregano and stir. (If you grow majoram, I find it adds a nice je ne sais quois to the stew).

Add the zucchini and stir (which can be a challenge if your pot isn’t big enough).

Chop the tomatoes while the stew sits there and softens.

Add the tomatoes and stir until warmed through. Word of advice: if you don’t strain the tomatoes first, your stew will get very soupy.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Turn off the stove and serve over rice.

I usually serve myself one portion and then -- after I’ve had my dinner and the stew has cooled down a bit -- divide the rest among 6 plastic containers and put it in the freezer for a winter dinner or lunch when I don’t feel like cooking. (You can add the rice to the bottom of the containers now or wait to add it after microwaving your stew in the winter).

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