We are fortunate in that we have a friend who, during the summer, worked at a local farm stand. This venture was part of a farming complex that sold produce and other items to various businesses. At the end of the season, our buddy presented us with vegetables that had gone unsold. The vegetables were fresh, organic, and a prize to any cook. So, why hadn’t they sold? Well, American consumers are a funny, strange lot. They will pass by produce that does not look pristine. If the tomato has a blemish, they will not buy it, even at reduced rates. If the greens don’t have a sheen, they’ll skip it. If bell peppers are not perfectly round, they’re not good enough. This goes for almost any produce. Eggplant is not worthy if it’s not perfectly shaped. A perfect apple with a spot will go unsold. This has always fascinated me. And I don’t know if it’s something ingrained in us through advertising or social norms.
Because of the above, we ended up with a surplus of great produce and vegetables. Among these, quite a load of eggplant and bell peppers of every size and color. So what do we do with all this? With the eggplant. onions, garlic and bell peppers, it was simple, turn them into that fabulous French classic: ratatouille. In this case, “Emergency Ratatouille.” What we couldn’t consume right away, we could freeze for future dining.
Ratatouille is stewed vegetable dish popular in the Provence region of France. Others claim it originated in Nice, thus they have their version, ratatouille niçoise. It’s foundation is tomatoes along with garlic, onions, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers or any other veggie of choice. The seasoning is up to you. It could be fennel, bay leaf, marjoram, or other. I’ve always had a soft for this dish, because of its simplicity in preparation, and it’s savoriness. This was enhanced by the 2007 Disney movie of the same title whereby a rat (who’s a gourmet) joins with a young kitchen worker to produce the signature dish. It’s great fun for children and adults alike. Stream it, or view whenever you can.
1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 medium bell peppers (it could be green, yellow, purple, or a mix), seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 pounds medium tomatoes, chopped, or 2 pounds canned tomatoes (drained and chopped)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Place eggplant chunks in a large plate or bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 20 minutes. Then rinse under running water in a colander, and pat dry. This procedure will remove excess bitterness in the eggplant.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet or pan. Add onions and sauté until soft and translucent.
- Add remaining ingredients except the eggplant. Stir to mix, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add eggplant, salt and pepper. Simmer 15 minutes more or until eggplant is tender. Serve at room temperature.
Yield: 6-8 servings.