Ratatouille

ratatouille-image_1Before we begin, let’s establish that we’re not talking about the Disney movie here. There are a million variations on this particular theme. Make mine a million and one. This French concoction can be a side dish, or it can be a main dish (with rice pilaf), or it can be an appetizer. Pick your poison. Everything that is used in this recipe is roughly chopped…not too big, and not too small. Leave the skin on everything except the red (or Bermuda) onion. I use cilantro here, but you can also use parsley if you’d like. My problem is that I’m not a great lover of parsley, with the exception of specific recipes. I think cilantro (often referred to as Mexican parsley) is a much more interesting taste.

Another basic staple in my house is Balsamic Drizzle or, as some call it, Balsamic Cream. I like to drizzle some on mine but this is entirely optional.

This is a project for sure. Everything cooks in stages initially, and it comes out best if cooked slowly. Cooking it for less time will leave you bigger and more distinct pieces of vegetables. Cooking it for up to 1.5 hours will result in a more blended silky stew. The beauty of this is that it can be served warm or room temperature. And leftovers? Nothing like it. Roll it up in a piece of lavash bread or throw it in a pita pocket, melt some Italian Fontina on it, and have yourself a great lunch. It can also be frozen.

Ingredients

2-3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

8 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 large red (or Bermuda) onion, roughly chopped

1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped

2 cups sliced portobello mushrooms

6 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

2 medium-large eggplant, cut into 1″ cubes

3 zucchini, sliced and cut in half

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup fresh basil, cut in strips

10 springs thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded

2 bay leaves

Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper

2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Balsamic Drizzle (for serving)

1/4 cup dry white wine (for deglazing the pan)

Directions

Prior to beginning this process, a word about deglazing the Dutch oven. During the cooking process a brown glaze will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep a 1/4 cup of dry white wine on hand for deglazing purposes. You do not want this brown glaze to burn and ruin the flavor of the dish. Add wine a little at a time as necessary and scrape off the bottom of the pan. Add the deglazing liquid to the bowl with the cooked vegetables.

The first thing you have to do is cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Eggplant traditionally retains a lot of water. Cut the eggplant first and place the pieces in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let it sit while you prepare the rest of the vegetables. Prior to this becoming a blended dish, the vegetables will be cooked in stages. Therefore, you want to keep the raw vegetables in separate bowls.

Place 2 tsp of olive oil in a large Dutch oven (at least 5-1/2 quart) and warm over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt, and sauté until they are just beginning to turn brown. This will take about 10 minutes. Then, add the peppers and mushrooms and cook for about another 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and put this into a large, clean bowl.

Add another 2 tsp of oil to the Dutch oven and toss in the zucchini. Add another pinch of salt. Cook the zucchini until it begins to brown. This should again be about 5-7 minutes. Remove the zucchini and add it to the other vegetables.

Rinse the eggplant under cold water, and squeeze the pieces to remove as much moisture as possible. Add 2 more teaspoons of olive oil to the pan along with the eggplant. Cook until the eggplant becomes translucent, about 10 minutes. Remove the eggplant and add it to the other vegetables.

Finally, add some more olive oil to the pan and sauté the garlic until it becomes slightly brown and fragrant. Then, add the tomatoes, thyme, cilantro, red pepper flakes and bay leaves. Allow the tomato juice to bubble, and deglaze the pan as it does.

Add all of the cooked vegetables back into the Dutch oven. Stir to mix, and reduce the heat to low. Taste and adjust salt level, and add black pepper to taste. You can cook this for another 30 minutes or up to an hour and a half. Shorter cooking time will result in larger more distinct pieces of vegetables. Longer cooking times will result in a very nice melded stew. The choice is up to you.

Before taking the Ratatouille off the stove, remove the bay leaves and stir in the basil. Serve in bowls, adding a dash of olive oil to the top. You can also offer a drizzle of Balsamic cream as well as some finely grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

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