Since I'm no longer growing my own tomatoes this summer, it hasn't bothered me quite so much to eat fresh tomatoes cooked.
Last year, my own babies were devoured raw, in sandwiches, salads and gazpachos, as well as directly out of hand.
This year — yes, raw tomatoes in all those forms have already graced my summer table. But I'm less sentimental about cooking tomatoes somebody else grew, so even though it's only August, I'm cavalierly applying thermal science to the seasonal bounty.
Which doesn't mean I'm eating hot food.
Ratatouille, the Provençal summer vegetable stew, is better 1) the next day (if you can wait), and 2) warm — not hot, not cold. You may disagree. Ça alors! Eh, bien, do it your way.
I've done it a zillion ways, and the simplest way is best. Simple means treat the vegetables nicely, don't cook the hell out of them, and if you started your stew early in the day, you can just leave the pot on the stove with a lid on, and at mealtime you can tell yourself enough time has passed to count as "next day"; very brief rewarming will bring you a bowl of Melted August Garden.
Recipes vary, but only in proportions — not choice — of the basic vegetables (tomatoes, zucchini, onions, bell peppers, eggplant), amount of garlic, and choice of herbs (tarragon, basil, thyme, etc.). Zut! No problem, just keep tweaking ratatouille formulas until you know what you like. Oh, then there's baking vs. simmering. Do I look like an idiot? It's August. The oven is off.
Technique: Since this is not really a recipe blog, I'll be brief. My formula is to take roughly equal portions of the chopped (not minced, not strips) vegetables, a little more garlic than you think you'd like, and a little more fresh basil than you think you'd like.
Heat a bit of olive oil in Dutch oven and sauté eggplant until it takes on a little color; remove eggplant to a dish. Add a little more oil to the pot and begin to soften the onion; next add the chopped, peeled garlic. On top of this, throw in a tightly bound bundle of basil wrapped in kitchen twine, still on the stem (guess at the proportions; I used one-third of a bunch yesterday for four tomatoes plus the equivalent of everything else — and could have used even more). Stir gently to distribute juices. Peppers and squash go in next, allowing some time to simmer and soften and ooze out tasty liquids. (You are salting and tasting as you go, yes? Try black pepper or crushed red chile flakes, too.) OK, now it's time to throw in the tomatoes (don't bother peeling or seeding them). Simmer about 10 minutes, with the occasional stir, and finally add back the eggplant. Mix gently and allow to cook, uncovered, on low heat for, oh gosh, up to an hour, though a half will be fine. Lift out the basil bundle, pressing out any lovely essences, and discard.
Turn off heat, cover pot, and go weed the garden until dinnertime.
Rewarm ratatouille and serve with slices of crusty bread.
Super-fun footnote: I was inspired as much by Béa's (La Tartine Gourmande) recent post on ratatouille — and especially her photos — as I was by the seasonal harvest at the market. Cuter still, Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen followed suit with a "Ratatouille Wanna-Be" of her own. (At which point I almost decided not to write about my version; oy, the glut!)
But then Sam of Becks & Posh blogged about bloggers inspiring bloggers inspiring bloggers to re-create recipes in a kind of delicious and irresistible chain-link effect.
So I thought: Hey, voilà, y'know?