For my second local-food recipe this week, I've gone as simple as you can, when it comes to dealing with all the squash, eggplant, and tomatoes we have running around here right now: ratatouille. There's nothing better for taking advantage of our currently booming crops like this simple, homey, ultra-satisfying melange of eggplant, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, and herbs. Moreover, ratatouille is highly adaptable and very versatile! You can eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks; you can eat it as a main dish, over rice or potatoes, with cheese or without, or as a side dish to just about anything (I busted out some roasted chicken for this one, but sauteed shrimp or baked fish, or even grilled sausages would be super). You can also add or subtract ingredients as you wish, but keep in mind that this is basically a quick-cooking stew of soft, mildly flavored, yet colorful vegetables, so you might not want to add, say, beets. They'd just bloody everything up.
Because most of the vegetables used in ratatouille are rather "shyly" flavored, you'll want to use a good dose of herbs for flavor. Rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano are all typically French and typically perfect in ratatouille. You'll also need salt, and vinegar or wine really helps brighten things up at the end. If you're not opposed to a non-local ingredient, you can throw some kalamata olives in there and boost the flavor quite a bit. Cook ratatouille as long as you like for the desired consistency: I like the eggplant to get really soft and velvety but I like a little bite left in the squashes, so I throw everything in together and just let it work itself out. But if you like more assertively textured eggplant, you might want to add it after the squash gets going for a bit.
- 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, or other oil
- 1 medium eggplant, peeled if desired, diced in 1" cubes (I peel half the skin off so I can keep some purple color)
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 4 or 5 summer squash, any variety (I used 1 zucchini, 2 yellow crooknecks, and 1 large white pattypan), diced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 or 2 medium tomatoes, diced
- 2 to 4 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano, in any combination)
- 1 teaspoon cane vinegar or 2 teaspoons white or red wine
- Heat a large saute pan with high sides over medium-high heat and pour in the oil.
- When the oil is hot, add the eggplant, red bell pepper, squash, and garlic, along with 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Stir and saute for a few minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until things start to get soft.
- Add the tomatoes and herbs, stir well, and continue cooking over medium heat for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. It will stick a little no matter what. When things are getting really soft, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking another 10 minutes, or until the texture is to your liking and everything is tender. Add in the vinegar or wine at the last second and stir to combine.
- Taste and adjust seasoning; you may need more salt (I used about 3 teaspoons total).
serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish