Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Lucky One: Ratatouille; or, Beth's Summer Stew

The scene:  Logan is helping Beth prepare tacos for dinner.  He admires the way she deftly dices the onions, green peppers, and tomatoes.  She explains that when she was a teenager she dreamed of opening her own restaurant, and during the summer she would pick loads of vegetables from the garden and practice her knife skills on them.

"I had this dream about opening this great place in Charleston or Savannah and having my own cookbooks and television show.  Crazy, I know.  But anyway, I spent the summer practicing my dicing.  I'd dice everything I could, as fast as I could, until I was as fast as the guy on the [Ginsu knife] commercial.  There were Tupperware bowls filled with zucchini and carrots and squash that I'd picked from the garden.  It drove Nana crazy, since it meant we had to have summer stew just about every single day."
"What's summer stew?"
"Anything mixed together that can be served over noodles or rice."
He smiled as he shifted a pile of grated cheese to the side.  "Then what happened?"
"Summer ended, and we ran out of vegetables."
"Ah," he said, wondering how someone could look so pretty in an apron.
The Lucky One, p. 128-129

When I first pondered the idea of making summer stew for this blog, immediately I thought of ratatouille, since that's an easy dish that we enjoy during the summer months.  Joe's mom used to make it (and she has her own special recipe that I haven't actually tried yet--I've promised her I will soon, though), and when the Pixar film Ratatouille came out, I decided I wanted to learn to make it.

The recipe I usually use comes from Rachael Ray.  On her television show, she wanted to replicate the dish that Remy the Cooking Rat made in the movie; the one that the cranky restaurant critic loved so much.  (Click here for that one; it's delicious.)  This time around I wanted something that would be a little quicker to prepare than Rachael/Remy's or Queen MIL's, and I found this one at the About-dot-com Southern Food site:
·         2 tablespoons olive oil
·         2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
·         1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
·         1 small eggplant, cubed
·         2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
·         4 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes*
·         3 to 4 small zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
·         1 teaspoon dried leaf basil
·         1/2 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
·         1/4 teaspoon dried leaf thyme (I had fresh thyme on hand, so I used that)
·         2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (and just for fun I added some cilantro, too)

(*I used a combination of canned tomatoes and fresh.)
In a 4-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add eggplant; stir until coated with oil. Add peppers; stir to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep vegetables from sticking.
Add tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs; mix well. Cover and cook over low heat about 15 minutes, or until eggplant is tender but not too soft.
Serves 4.

I also had a jar of roasted red peppers in my fridge, and I decided to chop up a few of those and add them along with the tomatoes and zucchini.  Rachael's recipe uses a sauce made with roasted red peppers, and I think that's what makes it so delicious.  I think it was the right move on my part, because it added a nice robust smokiness to the summer stew. 

(As you can see, I added some chopped up bacon left over from the pancakes and some grated parmesan cheese as a garnish.  The ratatouille is delicious both with and without those additions!)

Winner, Winner, Veggie Dinner.  Even Moe, who does NOT like vegetables, ate all of his and asked for more.  I will be making this again very soon.  Perhaps I'll try Queen MIL's recipe next time.  When I do, I'll be sure to share it with you!

Next we'll be returning to A Series of Unfortunate Events, and making coconut cream cake.  Stay tuned!

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