This year has been a bit different as far as produce from our CSA goes. Normally we get certain crops together; for example, we usually get eggplant with summer squash and tomatoes, which means that a batch of ratatouille is there for the making. Just the other week, though, we picked up several eggplants — it seemed a little late in the season for eggplant, but here in Arizona you can never tell — without any squash or tomatoes. We decided to make a batch of ratatouille, anyway. After all, it’s one of those supremely flexible dishes that will take, or do without, almost any vegetable with aplomb.
Now, we know that some people make a version of ratatouille that resembles a casserole by thinly slicing eggplant, tomatoes, and squash, and boy, does that look good. But, remember, we didn’t have all those items fresh, so, instead, we went with a version that’s more like a stew. It still has all the flavors, but is much easier to make up. And, to give credit where it’s due, we based this recipe on one found in The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook. One of the best things about it is that it’s fast; we can go from raw ingredients to a hearty meal in a little over 30 minutes, so let’s get scratchin’.
If you have zucchini or summer squash, feel free to add about a cup, either diced or cut into sticks. If you don’t like mushrooms, leave them out. For the eggplant, you can peel it if you wish. We don’t bother, because all the simmering will make it very tender, plus we know that our eggplant is grown without pesticides. In the photos we used red onions, but only because that’s what we had on hand; use what you have. For tomatoes, we used canned — not our first choice since fresh tomatoes are so much tastier — but it’s all we had. Finally, if you use Parmesan cheese, use real Parmesan. It may cost more, but it has much more flavor, meaning you can use less.
Procedure in detail:
Cook onion and garlic. Place a medium-sized saucepan, about 3 quart, over medium heat. Add the olive oil and let heat for a few minutes. Not so long that the oil smokes, but long enough to acquire a nice shimmer when the pan is tilted from side to side. Add the onions and garlic and let them cook, stirring once or twice, until soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes.
Add peppers. Toss in the pepper pieces, stir them around to coat, and let them cook for about a minute.
Add eggplant, tomatoes, and spices. Add the can of tomatoes, 2 cups of water (we just fill the can with water and use that), and the oregano, pepper, and salt. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil.
Add mushrooms and wine. Once the liquid starts to boil, add the mushrooms and the wine. Okay, you caught us. We thought of the mushrooms late in the game. You could also add them with the onions and garlic. Same with the wine.
Simmer. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until all the vegetables are tender.
Serve. Serve in bowls, over rice, and with a garnish of Parmesan cheese and chervil or parsley, if desired.
See, we told you this was an easy dish, but even though it’s simple, it’s a very tasty way of having eggplant — and a lot better for you than Eggplant Parmigiana (although to be honest, not quite that tasty), in which the eggplant is deep-fried. But it can’t be beat for a rustic stew-like dinner, as it’s quick, but still has a good depth of flavor and warms you nicely on those chilly fall evenings. Four stars.