Shares from a traditional community-supported agriculture program can seem a bit like the “mystery boxes” intended to stump chefs in so many cooking competitions.
Both entirely unfamiliar produce items and the all-too familiar — filling boxes for weeks on end — offer their own culinary challenges. Even home gardeners who grow exactly what they like, and farmers-market shoppers well-versed in seasonality, can benefit from thinking outside the box, as chef Constance Jesser opined for a recent story in the newspaper’s food section.
Ratatouille is one of the recipes Jesser said she intended to share in an upcoming class. A symphony of late-summer flavors, it’s also a dish that freezes well for months she said. I would hazard that’s the case particularly if the ratatouille is simmered over more than an hour in the classic Provencal style, shared in a previous post.
The following recipe is closer to my take on “quick ratatouille,” which my husband prefers to the silky stew that his mom makes every summer. Our tastes may differ on this point, but we couldn’t be more in sympathy about cultivating this cast of veggies every year.
Garden Fresh Ratatouille
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 large eggplant, trimmed, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 small onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 red pepper, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 green pepper, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 green zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 yellow squash, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 Roma or plum tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/3 cup fresh basil, cut into thin strips
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
A pinch of dried, crushed, red chili flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Add 2 tablespoons of the oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and spread into a single layer. Cook until it just starts to soften and turn golden-brown, stirring occasionally, for about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove eggplant from pan and reserve.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil to same skillet. Add the onion and peppers and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just softened and slightly golden. Add the zucchini and squash and reduce heat to medium. Cook for about 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, basil, thyme and chili flakes, if using, and cook for about 7 to 9 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes start to break down.
Add reserved browned eggplant to skillet and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and mixture looks like a wet, but not saucy stew. Season with the vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature.
Makes 8 to 10 side-dish servings, 4 to 6 main-course servings.