Dining In: Jersey Fresh Veggies and Ratatouille
Saturday fun: going to a farmer’s produce market, then deciding what to make for dinner.
My sister reminded me about Muzzarelli’s, a family-owned farmer’s market on Oak Road in Vineland, NJ, not far from where I grew up.
As with most NJ markets, the “Jersey Fresh” produce is abundant: tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, beets with greens still attached, collards, Swiss chard, romaine, lettuce, okra, string beans, lima beans, corn, giant carrots, melons, potatoes, onions, leeks, endive, escarole, pickles, sweet potatoes, and so much more.
Several varieties of eggplant caught my eye, and I decided to try some of each type. By the way, did you know that eggplant, like a tomato, is really a fruit? It is.
My final purchases: eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, broad-leafed parsley. All the ingredients for a delicious summer ratatouille. Ta-dah. Dinner tonight!
A summer ratatouille uses fresh tomatoes, while a winter ratatouille uses canned tomatoes. The tomatoes on the left (below) are from the farmer’s market. The pitiful ones on the right are from my garden. Oh, well. What can I say? I did not inherit my father’s or grandfather’s green thumbs. I’ll throw these in the ratatouille anyway.
I checked Julia Child’s recipe for ratatouille in my well-worn 1961 edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The latest revised edition of this cookbook by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck (2009) is available on Amazon.com. How can you make a French dish without checking this classic cookbook?
By the way, Julia Child would have been 100-years-old on August 15, 2012. You can read “A Tribute to Julia” here at laughcooklove.wordpress.com.
You can make ratatouille in a variety of ways, but the ingredients are basically the same. Some ratatouilles feature sliced vegetables neatly layered in a casserole dish and baked with a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Other ratatouilles have the vegetables all cooked together as a stew in a heavy pot.
But Julia Child says this.
A really good ratatouille is not one of the quicker dishes to make, as each element is cooked separately before it is arranged in the casserole to partake of a brief communal simmer.
I made a few changes to Julia’s process. I cubed the eggplant instead of slicing it, and then roasted it and the squash in the oven instead of sauteing them. I like the nice crisp edges on the roasted eggplant. In fact, I always make enough of this to eat as a snack right out of the oven. Seasoned and roasted eggplant cubes are healthier than potato chips and maybe even tastier.
And Julia’s quantities seemed small, so I increased them. Quantities do not have to be exact.
- about 2 lbs eggplant (I used all four varieties I found at the market)
- 3 small zucchini
- 1 yellow squash
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 and 1/2 cups red, yellow, and orange peppers chopped
- two or three sprigs of rosemary
- dried or fresh oregano
- fresh parsley chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic smashed
- one very large fresh, firm tomato (or several average size)
- salt and pepper to taste.
- shaved Asiago or Parmesan Cheese
Roast the eggplant and squash.
- Spread 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on a large baking pan or cookie sheet using a pastry brush or spatula.
- Peel, slice, and cube the eggplant and put on the baking sheet. Lightly drizzle olive oil over eggplant.
- Slice the zucchini and yellow squash, coin-shape, and put on another prepared baking sheet. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the squash.
- Sprinkle with salt, pepper, rosemary, and oregano.
- Bake in a 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes, turning once.
Prepare the Casserole
- Saute the onions and peppers in olive oil in a heavy pot for about ten minutes until soft. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more.
- Add seasonings to taste.
- Remove the skins from several large tomatoes. (Drop each tomato in boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove and peel.) (Optional)
- Cut large tomato in half (top to bottom), then slice into thin wedges. Layer tomato wedges on top of peppers and onions in the heavy casserole. Cover and simmer for five to ten minutes.
- Add the roasted eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash and stir in gently. Adjust seasonings to taste. Add parsley.
- Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, covered. Stir gently every few minutes. You may need to add a little water to keep it from scorching. (This recipe does not have a thick tomato sauce like a winter ratatouille might have.)
- Serve with shaved Asiago or Parmesan Cheese and a fresh sprig of rosemary or parsley.
As Julia Child would say,
YOUR TURN: Do you have a favorite eggplant or squash recipe?