As mornings begin chillier than they have in months, but afternoons still have us losing a sweater or sweatshirt, we're also finding some of the finest cooking opportunities of the entire year. Gardens are still gifting us a bevy of bounty and the cooler weather inspires us to linger in the kitchen. And when you're working some kitchen magic, there are few dishes that better epitomize this time of the year than ratatouille. This French dish brings together all manner of produce and fresh herbs and aromatics to make a vegan stew that doesn't leave you wondering where the main course is. It's just perfect fall food that brings together the produce of late summer and early fall in every bite.
This particular rendition was assembled with the intention of bringing a rainbow to a serving bowl. Assembled with produce in nearly every color of the rainbow, this stew is bound to inspire you to put on a sweater and go on a long walk in the autumn leaves after dinner. You can, of course, tweak the produce chosen to suit your tastes, your garden's offerings, or what was on sale at the market this week. Make it yours, but make it fresh while we still have gardens providing for us.
My favorite way to enjoy this stew is spooned into bowls and alongside chunks of crusty bread to sop up the juices at the end. Because I love it to much, I've been known to double the recipe to make sure leftovers will be around. I've been known to top pizzas with those - along with some cheese. I've also added some to scrambled eggs, tossed some into a beef stew, or just chopped up a couple leftover brats from the grill to add to a bowl. Versatile, healthy, and absolutely fresh and seasonal. What more could you ask for?
- 2 small eggplants, cut into ½-inch dice (I used two Japanese eggplants)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more to taste
- 2 medium onions, cut into ½-inch dice (I used one red and one yellow onion)
- 4 to 6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- ½ bunch basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine + additional basil leaves, torn or chopped
- 1 pinch dried chile flakes (more for spicier, less for milder)
- 2 sweet peppers, cut into ½-inch dice (I used one red and one green pepper)
- 3 medium summer squash, cut into ½-inch dice (I used two zucchini and one cocozelle - AKA Italian zucchini)
- 3 ripe medium tomatoes, cut into ½-inch dice (I used one medium red tomato, one medium orange tomato, and about 8 oz. halved cherry tomatoes)
- Salt, to taste
Toss the eggplant cubes with a teaspoon of salt. Set the cubes in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Pat the eggplant dry, add to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden. Add a bit more oil if the eggplant absorbs all the oil and sticks to the bottom of the pan. Remove the eggplant when it's golden and set aside.
In the same pot, pour in 2 more tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onions and cook for about 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, basil bouquet, dried chile flakes, and a bit more salt.
Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir in the peppers. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in the summer squash. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in the tomatoes.
Cook for 10 minutes longer, then return the eggplant to the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more, until all of the vegetables are soft. Remove the bouquet of basil, pressing on it to extract all its flavors, and adjust the seasoning with salt.
Stir in the chopped basil leaves, more extra virgin olive oil as desired, and garnish the top of the dish with more fresh basil. Serve warm or cold.
- Yields: 6-8 servings
- Preparation Time: 1 hour