Submitted by Ann Thurlow
I just realized I had gathered all the ingredients for ratatouille without even thinking about it. It’s not difficult at this time of year. You need eggplant, onions, red pepper, zucchini and tomatoes and they’re all in season right now. I have made ratatouille with other than fresh local vegetables because I craved it so, out of season. But here’s the point of this really great stew: it’s only good at this time of year. I would happily eat it every day except that I share my table with someone who is almost accommodating enough, but not quite.
Ratatouille is a Provencal stir fry, basically And, as with all classic recipes, there are as many ways to make it as there are people who cook it. One well known recipe calls for fennel and marjoram; I myself would never dream of introducing such strong flavours—I think it would throw off the balance of the dish. As far as herbs go, I could be pressed to use basil, but only if it’s right in front of my face.
One place where the classic recipe and I agree: you have to cook all the veg, except the tomatoes, in separate pans. That way, the individual flavours of each vegetable come shining through. Remember, this is about late summer vegetables. Early summer vegetables taste like earth; late summer vegetables taste like sun.
Here’s my way: cut equal amounts onion, zucchini and red bell pepper into biggish chunks. Smash a couple cloves of garlic. Chunk up roughly the same amount of fresh, sweet pulpy tomatoes and set aside. I love eggplant so I cut chucks of a good sized one. Cook the garlic for one minute over low heat with lots of olive oil. Add onions and zucchini. Cook the red pepper and eggplant each in their own pan, the same way; eggplant likes lots of oil. When all the veg are nice and soft (not mushy) put them in the same pan and throw in the tomatoes. Cover until the tomatoes break down. Uncover, stir and add a tiny squirt of hot sauce, a little dab of maple syrup and salt to taste. Let it cook down until it’s not watery and serve with parmesan and basil, if you want. It’s not the purist way, but it’s my own celebration of the very best eating and the very best days of the year.