Saturday, August 19, 2006

If It's August It Must Be Ratatouille

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?


passionate eater said...

You've definitely inspired me Cookie Crumb!

Kalyn said...

I do think this whole "bloggers inspring bloggers" thing is a lot of fun. I can't believe I never made ratatouille before, and some would say I still haven't made it since I left out the eggplant. But eggplant, or no eggplant, it was so very delish. Wish I could come over and taste your version.

bea at La tartine gourmande said...

The snow ball effect. Yeah! Vive la ratatouille !

cookiecrumb said...

Oh, wow! Three comments already. Thanks, ladies!

How did Kalyn and Bea know they'd been linked to? I'm sure it's kinda Technorati-ish or something, if somebody would be so kind as to clue in this old broad. (Offline email is fine; I'm talking to you, Kalyn!)

Sam said...

the queen of all bloggers inspiring bloggers in a chain reaction of posts has to be: the lost lemon tart escapade.
that was fun!

Kevin said...

"I'm cavalierly applying thermal science to the seasonal bounty."

I love it when you're cavalier. It's so naughtily French as in: "She was breath-taking when she appeared in the window wearing nothing but a cavalier."

sher said...

It is absolutely better then next day. I try to make a large amount to have leftovers on hand. It's really good,eaten cold right out of the fridge, late at night. Yum

cookiecrumb said...

Sam: Yeah, that was really cute. (Thanks for being my RSS reader, heh.) Sure enough, now I need to bake that tart!

Oh, Kevin: How like a man. That's not a "cavalier" she's wearing; it's called a "clouseau"! Snicker.

Sher: Hm! I'd eat it cold straight from the fridge at midnight, yas! But today we're considering warming a little in individual ramekins in the oven, and then cracking an egg on top and baking until it sets... Maybe.

Stacie said...

Ratatouille is good, with creamy, dreamy polenta, oh yeah!!!! I know what we're havin for dinner! Loved the pics of rata-o-others...

drbiggles said...

Uh, yeah I dunno. My father used to make that from time to time when we were pint sized. My opinion is still pretty much the same, too many vegetables all in one place. Kinda creeps me out.


shuna fish lydon said...

A few days after I almost died my mother fed me ratatouille. It was, by far, the best thing I had ever eaten.

It still holds a place in my heart. Although I must say that if eggplant tastes like it might be raw, I will stop eating the whole pot.

cookiecrumb said...

Bingo, Shuna. Cranky was just saying yesterday that undercooked eggplant does weird things to the lining of his mouth. It should be cooked into submission.
What a dreamy, dear mother memory, and what an amazing thing to eat after you nearly died!

bea at La Tartine Gourmande said...

CookieCrumb, ahhah, my little finger told me! ;-) C'est mon petit doigt!

Mary Ladd said...

This will have to be what I make tonight, to eat tomorrow. We have a group of 16 writers coming over tomorrow, eek! It will be served with planked salmon and couscous, along with ample wine.

Liz said...

We had an overabundance of veggies in the garden this year and have been eating ratatouille since what feels like the dawn of time.

Darned delicious though, and as sher pointed out, very good the next day, and the next, and the next ;-)

cookiecrumb said...

Mary and Liz: Ack! We still have leftovers. (No problem.) And it WILL be made again this summer.