Saturday, September 12, 2009

Box-of-garden-vegetables, Round Two: Ratatouille

There is nothing quite like hearing a knock on your door, opening the door, and finding a box full of vegetables on your doorstep. You want to know why? Because this garden...

...gets packed in a box in the garden and sent to me.
(for more pictures of the garden, look at the end of this post)

This is the second box of vegetables my father has sent me. It doesn't get much better than this. He packs the box in the garden, drops it off at the post-office, and a few days later I have fresh corn, peppers, squash, zucchini, eggplant, okra, onions, shallot, cucumber, and radishes.

With the box in hand, my mind started racing through recipes and my fingers started thumbing through the 'vegetable' section of my Joy of Cooking. I settled on a recipe for Ratataouille Provencal.

This hearty, stew-like dish is packed with flavor. First, you have all the wonderful veggies: eggplant, squash/zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Then you have some wonderful herbs: thyme, bay leaf, and basil. This dish could easily have turned into a disaster of mush-y, indistinguishable vegetable-like pieces. Fortunately, this recipe made it possible for the vegetables to marry together, and yet retain their individual flavors and shapes. What a perfect way to showcase these lovely, fresh Matherne-garden vegetables.

The prep:
Get the veggies out. And revel in how beautiful the are.
I started with the eggplant and squash. And, yes, I used a scale to weigh 1 pound of each and a ruler to cut 1-inch chunks. Here's the Japanese eggplant, slender and more tender than regular globe eggplant.

And the squash. I threw in a little zucchini for good measure.
Next, these lovely peppers. This time, I went ruler-free.

Then the onions. If they are sent to you from the garden, be sure to clean them well.

Mince up the garlic.

Gather your basil.

And you are ready to start cooking. Get some oil heating in your Dutch oven.

You start with the eggplant and the squash. You use high heat at this point, because you want to get a golden crust on the eggplant and squash, without overcooking them. They start like this:
And, once they are golden like this:
... remove them to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium-high, add a bit more oil, and toss in your onions.

Once they are softened, add the peppers and garlic.
Let those cook until just tender.

Then for the tomatoes. I decided to drain a can instead of peeling my own.

Now, you add in the tomatoes, thyme, and bay leaf.

Cover and let that marry for about 5 minutes. Then add the eggplant and squash back in.

Cover that and let that marry for another 20 minutes or so. The timing is important on this because you don't want the vegetables to turn to mush. You want everything to still have body and be distinct. Remove the lid and throw in a handful of chopped basil.

Spoon that into your serving bowl. Garnish with some basil and a little grated parmesan.

Serve that with a side of corn on the cobb, and you have one fantastic way to use vegetables that were delivered by the mailman.

Ratataouille Provencal (adapted from Joy of Cooking)
1/4 c, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound zucchini (or squash), cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 cups sliced onions
2 large bell peppers, cut into 1-inch squares
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded, chopped fresh tomatoes or one 14-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
2 to 3 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped basil

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over high heat. Add eggplant and squash. Cook, stirring until golden and just tender, about 10-12 minutes. Remove the vegetables to a plate and reduce the heat to medium-high. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and onions. Cook until the onions are slightly softened. Add bell peppers and garlic cloves. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are just tender but not browned, about 8 to 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add tomatoes, thyme, and the bay leaf. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the eggplant and zucchini and cook until everything is tender, about 20 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Stir in basil.

Serve garnished with basil and parmesan cheese.

Use this Ratatouille as a side dish, over meat, on a hummus sandwich, or on a salad.

More pictures of the garden and its delights:
Japanese eggplants,


zucchinis, cucumbers,
and rows of corn...

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