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Ratatouille

I don't know if you have seen the movie, Ratatouille.  It's a cute cartoon film about a rat who realizes his dream of becoming a chef.  I'm just a kid at heart and I really enjoyed it, maybe because I love preparing food and there is a part of me that loves to experiment with food and flavor. 

 

Part of the “cuteness” for me is that my ex-wife used to call the dish, ratatouille, rat for short.  So, a rat making ratatouille reminded me of this.

 

Ratatouille is a vegetable stew.  It's one of those dishes you prepare when your garden starts exploding.  If you've never had a garden, well let's just say that vegetables don't produce uniformly through a long growing season, although sometimes I wish they did.  When something comes into season, especially foods like tomatoes, eggplants and most of all zucchini squash, you can suddenly become inundated with overwhelming quantities of the stuff, which you wind up giving to family, friends and neighbors (or in my case, the employees at the office).  Ratatouille is a great dish to prepare when the garden explodes with an overabundance of zucchini, tomatoes and eggplants.

 

My ex used to make the dish by sautéing some onions, garlic and maybe some green pepper, then throwing in some cut-up eggplant and zucchini squash and chopped fresh tomatoes.  You simmer everything with a little salt, pepper and Italian seasoning until all the vegetables are done and you have a simple, but tasty dish. I've never followed a recipe exactly for it, but usually one onion, one bell pepper, one large eggplant, two zucchini and five to six large garden fresh tomatoes will do nicely. 

 

This isn't, by the way, the traditional French method of making the dish.  The French sauté each vegetable separately and combine them at the end.  The way we made it the dish is very juicy, but tastes great put over a little steamed brown rice.

 

Recently, however, I learned a better way of making ratatouille.  If we followed the tradition started by my ex, we could call it roasted rat, but that really doesn't sound very appetizing, does it.  Anyway, here's how to make Roasted Ratatouille.

 

 

Roasted Ratatouille

 

Cut up your eggplant and zucchini (you can also use summer squash) into cubes about 1/2-3/4 inch in size.  Chop your onion and dice about 4-5 garlic cloves into small pieces.  If you have garden fresh tomatoes, then dice about 5-6 of them into 1/2 inch pieces.  Drain off the juice.  If you don't have garden fresh tomatoes, then used canned tomatoes. (Grocery store tomatoes don't have any flavor, so you're better off with canned.)  Use a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes and drain off the juice with a strainer, reserving about 1/3 cup of the juice.

 

Toss all the vegetables together with a little salt, fresh ground black pepper, about 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and a 1/2 teaspoon of Italian seasoning.  If you are using canned tomatoes, add just enough of the drained tomato juice to moisten the vegetables slightly.  This isn't necessary with fresh tomatoes. 

 

Put everything in a 9 x 13 baking dish and roast the vegetables in the oven at 375 degrees.  After 30 minutes, toss the vegetables.  After another 30 minutes, toss them again.  If the vegetables are tender, you can remove them from the oven.  Sometimes I find they need just a little more cooking time.

 

Option: I made this dish even more flavorful by topping it with a little cheese.  After the vegetables have cooked for 60 minutes, grate a little Parmesan cheese over the top and then add some thin slices of mozzarella cheese.  Bake until the cheese melts.

 

It's really an easy dish to prepare, but so delicious.  And, even if you don't have a garden that is overproducing zucchini squash and eggplants, it's still a dish worth preparing for the flavor alone.  I made a batch of it the other night and my two sons and a friend devoured it so fast I almost didn't get any.