Saturday, February 2, 2013

Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille

I am a messy cook.

I'm reading a book called “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg.  In the book, which is part memoir, part cookbook, she tells stories and shares recipes inspired or evoked by an experience.  Ms. Wizenberg is a masterful story teller and I will write more about the book later but in one early chapter she notes that she learned many things from her dad including the value of cleaning up the kitchen as you go while cooking.  She says “When you’re cooking, if you have time – any time at all – to stop to wash a few dishes or wipe the counter, do it.  It’ll mean less mess in the end, which means more time to enjoy your food, your company, your day, all of it.” 

I made a note of this.

I made several notes… copy of this book is a little tattered and nicely annotated...just the way I like a good book.  I think this is why I'm having a hard time adjusting to e-books.   I like my hand-written notes....they make me feel connected to the pages I've read.

It was my turn to cook on Wednesday and I was completely smitten by the recipe for ratatouille on page 124, a go-to dish the author often made while living in France.  Vegetables were abundant in the street markets of France and she would shop a greengrocer “under a myrtle green awning” on rue Oberkampf in Paris. I have no idea where this is but hopefully the awning will help me locate it when I visit. 

Anyway, the easy access to fresh vegetables offered the perfect excuse to (frequently) make this stew of eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, thyme and bay leaf.  Other versions of this recipe call for herbs de Provence but this version uses thyme, bay leaf and basil.  It also calls for pre-baking rather than sautéing the eggplant to give it the aubergine a more tender, less spongy consistency.  
Growing up, the native Oklahoman used to eat leftover ratatouille over Yukon gold potatoes roughly smashed with a fork.  I took this concept to a swankier level and served my concoction with Parsnip Mashed Potatoes. At first potatoes and ratatouille seemed a little “Felix and Oscar” to me but then I read that eggplant is related to the potato and tomato, so now it makes perfect sense!

Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille
From:  A Homemade Life

1 lb. eggplant, sliced in 1” rounds
Olive oil
1 lb. zucchini, sliced into ½” half-moons
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
5 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
¼ cup fresh chopped basil


Brush both sides of the eggplant with the olive oil and arrange in a single layer on a baking dish.  Bake for 30 minutes at 400° or until nicely browned, turning halfway through.  Cut the rounds into 1” pieces and set aside.

Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven and add the zucchini, stirring occasionally until golden and tender.  Remove from the pan. 

Add more oil if needed, reduce the heat and add the onions and sauté until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the bell pepper and garlic and cook until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes.  

Add the tomatoes, salt, thyme and bay leaf and stir to combine.  Reduce the heat and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the eggplant and zucchini, stir to incorporate and cook until all ingredients are tender, about 20 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Ms. Wizenberg’s note:  “Ratatouille is even better on the second or third day.  If you can, plan to make it ahead of time so the flavors have time to meld and ripen.” 

I made my ratatouille on Monday and served in on Wednesday with the parsnip mashed potatoes, a delicious salad, a wonderful bottle of red wind and, for dessert, the creamiest chocolate pudding served in charming vintage tea cups.

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