Recipe: Rustic Summer Ratatouille
One of our favorite events every summer is The Sylvia Center’s Farm-to-Table dinner, hosted by Great Performances in the fields of Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, N.Y. The mission of The Sylvia Center is to inspire young people and their families to eat well through hands-on learning experiences on the farm and in the kitchen. Kristen Jovanelly, garden educator and manager at The Sylvia Center, offers us recipes the teenagers are learning to make.
My initial introduction to the percussive sounding French vegetable dish ratatouille was the Disney movie. Remy, the French rat chef extraordinaire with his kaleidoscope of spiraled colorful summer vegetables, impressed the most haughty Parisian restaurant clientele. I fell in love with the real ratatouille in France, and my affair with the dish far exceeded any of my previous conceptions of romance abroad. It was infinitely more satisfying. Ratatouille has long been entrenched in Provençal summer cuisine and it’s the French equivalent of corn on the cob – iconic, rustic gastronomy.
Simply, ratatouille is a stew of eggplant, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. Using herbs, the vegetables are renewed and redefined. They cease to exist independently and transform into one melded ragout that nonchalantly calls to your tastebuds, “c’est moi, I am summer.” Chefs around the world have developed ratatouille to meld to the desires of the palate of their region. In fact, unlike most French cuisine, ratatouille does not have a set recipe or precise technique. Ratouiller means to stir up, but some iterations, like the iconic aforementioned Disney kaleidoscope, don’t even necessitate that.
The Sylvia Center’s version is cooked in a big rondeau accompanied by a pot of rice. It is rich with thyme, oregano and basil while featuring all the ingredients we find ourselves swimming with this time of year: eggplant, peppers, tomatoes. Serve over rice or with a crunchy piece of baguette!
Rustic Summer Ratatouille
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 ripe tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
1. In a colander, salt the eggplant and place over a bowl or in the sink. This will help the eggplant release some water. Let sit for about 10 minutes.
2. Heat a large sauce pan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add olive oil. When it shimmers, add the onion and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and continue to saute until fragrant, another 2 minutes.
3. Add eggplant and saute until the eggplant begins to soften, about 8 minutes. Add peppers and zucchini and continue cooking until the vegetables are bright and soft, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, thyme, oregano and salt and let the vegetable mixture simmer until sauce thickens, about 8 minutes.
4. Serve immediately over rice. This dish is also great the next day.