September 6, 2009

Summer Ratatouille

Succotash and ratatouille are two of my favorite summer vegetable dishes. There are many parallels between the two including they are a great way to use up the bounteous crops of the season, extremely versatile, and not to mention have great names! My succotash posting in June was a hit, and as summer nears its end, I thought I’d come up with a ratatouille dish, inspired by the fresh and sweet vegetables at the farmers market.

“Ratatouille perfumes the kitchen with the essence of Provence and is certainly one of the great Mediterranean dishes.” -Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Traditional ratatouille is composed of a medley of eggplant, tomato, summer squash, bell peppers, onion, garlic, and herbs. The dish originated is southern France at some point in the 16th century (don’t forget that the tomato wasn’t introduced to Europe until after the Spanish conquistadores brought the seeds home!). Ratatouille became remarkably popular due to its simplicity and versatility. It is traditionally served as a side dish, either hot or cold, often accompanied by meat. I have also seen the vegetable medley used as a savory filling for crepes or omelets.

In France, there is some debate on how to make a traditional ratatouille. Julia Child contended that the vegetables should be sautéed separately in olive oil and then layered in a casserole and baked. Others prefer a simpler approach of sautéing the vegetables together. My simple approach is a combination of the two.

In my recipe, the vegetables are chopped rather small, and simmered down to a stew-like consistency. To keep with the French theme, I serve the ratatouille with a poached egg over a crusty slice of bread (pain au levain is my absolute favorite). The textures and flavors pair wonderfully and is definitely a summer dish to make over and over.

Summer Ratatouille with a Poached Egg

This recipe is extremely versatile and can be adapted to your liking. Feel free to throw in any other summer vegetables that you have on hand. I used a variety of zucchini, crookneck and pattypan squash, and a couple of smaller Japanese eggplants.

Serves 4.

1 lb eggplant, cut into small cubes

1 lb summer squash, cut into small cubes (any type will do)

¼ cup olive oil

1 large onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, diced

1 ½ lbs tomatoes, chopped

¼ mixed fresh herbs such as parsley, oregano, thyme and basil and/or ½ teaspoon Herbs de Provence

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon white vinegar

4 large organic eggs

4 large thick slices French bread, toasted (pain au levain is highly recommended)

1. Salt eggplant if necessary and set aside (see eggplant parmesan stacks).

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet and when hot, add eggplant and zucchini. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a deep skillet. Add onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until golden, about 8 minutes. Add bell pepper and tomato and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and thickened, about 20 minutes. Add eggplant and zucchini the last 5 minutes of cooking. Stir in herbs and season with salt and pepper.

4. Pour enough water in a large skillet to reach a depth of 1½ inches; add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a simmer. Stir in vinegar. Crack an egg into a small bowl and carefully slide it into the simmering water. Repeat with remaining eggs. Simmer over low heat until whites are set but yolks are soft, about 3 minutes.

5. To serve, top each slice of bread with a poached egg and generously spoon ratatouille on top. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

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