August is a challenging time to be a farmer or a farmers market devotee. The heat and the drought take their toll and you can see it at the markets – some are taking a hiatus for August, others are pared down in size (the Downtown Austin Market will be back to 4th Street only this week).
Despite the slimmer pickings, there are still great finds. As I stroll through the stands in August, one dish in particular screams out at me – Ratatouille. Eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and peppers are every where. Definitely time for Ratatouille.
I had already shopped for my ingredients at the market and was watching the Next Food Network Star, when the eventual winner, Melissa D’Arabian, made Ratatouille. She had a great tip to avoid the dilemma of different cooking times for the different vegetables which she learned from her French mother-in-law. She suggested remembering the phrase EZ-POT for the order of cooking the veggies: eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, tomatoes. It’s a great tip and an easy way to avoid having to dig out your cookbook.
Also, have fun with this dish. You can add some white wine or a hotter pepper. If you like it to have a thicker liquid, you can add tomato paste.
I made a big batch and ate off it all week. I had it with crunchy french bread for dinner, over quinoa for lunch and I even ate it cold on a sandwich one day. It is also a delicious accompaniment for chicken or fish. Lidia Bastianach makes an Sicilian version that she tops with seared tuna. I’m going to have to try that next time.
Thank goodness for the simmering days of summer.
Simmering Summer Ratatouille
2 tbsps olive oil
2 eggplants, cubed (you can peel the eggplant if you find the skin of the eggplant displeasing)
2 zucchini, cubed
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 large or 2 small onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 tbsps capers, drained
3-5 basil leaves, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Fill a large bowl about 1/2 way with water and ice. Boil a large pot of water. Cut small x’s in the bottom of the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in the boiling water until the skin starts to bubble a little bit. Immediately place the tomatoes in the ice bath for about a minute. Remove the tomatoes from the ice bath and place in a colander in the sink until they are cool enough to handle, then peel the tomatoes.
Place eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with sea salt. Let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse the salt off the eggplant, dry the eggplant and set it aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the eggplant and let it cook for about 8-10 minutes. Add the zucchini, cook for another 8-10 minutes. Add the bell peppers and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 5-8 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and capers and cook until the liquid reduces. You can create a thicker liquid by adding tomato paste.
Remove from the heat and stir in salt, pepper, basil and thyme. Adjust seasoning as needed to taste and serve.