Guest Blogger: Sara’s Ratatouille
Sara lives in a beautiful high rise in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago. She has a view, a weekly farmer’s market steps from her door, and she has cable. So I’ve made a habit of conveniently inviting myself over on Sunday nights, just in time for True Blood. Last week, she made an absolute feast in honor of the show’s finale. We threw in wine and cheese and a baguette and made a French night of it…after all, Louisiana (where True Blood is set) was colonized by France, so we weren’t completely off base. This ratatouille was so good, that, if you closed your eyes and took a swig of the Cotes du Rhone, you could nearly be transported to the south of France. Or, at least, to the bayou.
Early September reminds me of Provence in the south of France. Provence is known for its exquisite sunlight, which is why some of the greatest artists have spent time there. I spent a Fall semester there when I was at university, and the sunsets were like horizontal rainbows. As many know, the French take great pride in their cuisine, and there is no exception in the south of France. The cuisine is diverse because of the close proximity to northern Africa, Spain, and Italy. The produce is divine and better than any produce I have eaten anywhere. Farmer’s markets were daily and exploded with the most divine organic fruits and veggies, grown the way that they have been grown for generations. To me, ratatouille is the quintessential dish from southern France. It is best made at the peak of the growing season, when the vegetables have their best flavor. Because the flavors in ratatouille depend on the vegetables, herbs, and olive oil, it is important that only the best ingredients are used and with care. It was a special treat when my study abroad mom made ratatouille, and she always let me know how she slaved all day! Because I’m in grad school and don’t have 4 hours to spend making ratatouille the traditional way, I use an abbreviated recipe that I find satisfactory.
Horizontal Rainbow Ratatouille
1 onion, sliced
2 green, yellow, or red peppers, sliced
4 cloves garlic, halved
1 eggplant, cut into 1-in chunks
1 large zucchini, cut into chunks
1 large tomato or a few smaller tomatoes (skin and seeds removed) or canned tomatoes
Dried herbs, such as thyme and marjoram
Fresh flat-leaf parsley and basil, chopped
Good olive oil
Pitted nicoise olives (optional)
Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 350. Place the chopped eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 30 min. Then, rinse and dry the eggplant. Coat an oven-proof pan with a thin layer of olive oil. Layer in the veggies in any order. My order is usually onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, dried herbs, tomatoes, seasoning. Cook for 1 hour, occasionally pressing down the veggies with the back of a spatula, until all veggies are tender.
Remove the pan, and here’s the trick I just discovered. Place a colander in a pan and dump the veggies into the colander so that the juices drain into the pan under the colander. Place the veggies back in the original baking dish. Place the juice over medium heat until it boils; then simmer until it is reduced to a darker brown color, maybe about 20 min, depending on the amount of juice. Pour the reduced juice back over the veggies. Check the seasoning and sprinkle with fresh herbs and olives. Ratatouille can be served, hot, cold, or at room temperature. Best with a fresh baguette and French table wine (I like Cote du Rhone).