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From the food editor: A recipe for hearty winter ratatouille

Warm up to Winter Ratatouille.

MICHELLE STARK | Times

Warm up to Winter Ratatouille.

Ratatouille, a fancy French name for what is essentially vegetable stew, is typically a summer dish, chock-full of fresh eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes.

Good thing we can get access to those veggies year-round at the grocery store, because I was craving a hot, comforting dish to help counteract this unseasonably cool winter air. Ratatouille is an easy-to-prepare option that has the added benefit of still being rather healthy.

This is the kind of dish where quality of ingredients and cookware is important. Because the components are so simple, they need to be rendered in a way that leaves them more than the sum of their parts. For that reason, most of the vegetables are typically cooked in batches to preserve their integrity, then combined and cooked some more to produce the final dish. Use fresh herbs if you can.

For the "winter" part of this recipe, we're subbing fresh tomatoes for canned tomatoes; go with a good brand you trust, and it's best to buy whole, peeled tomatoes.

It's best to use a wooden spoon when making this dish. If you don't have one, something nonmetal will also work. The idea is that a wooden spoon is able to scrape up all the goodness on the bottom of your pan without ruining the surface. The less severe edges of wood also help keep the vegetables more intact.

Like most stews, ratatouille tastes best when it is allowed to sit for a couple of hours (or days) so its flavors can deepen. It is divine served over a hearty base like buttery polenta. It's also sumptuous as a simple bowl of vegetables, or a component in, say, a pasta dish.

Contact Michelle Stark at mstark@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17 on Twitter.

easy

Winter Ratatouille

Ingredients

  • For the ratatouille:
  • 2 to 3 cups zucchini or zucchini mixed with yellow squash, cut into small chunks
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups eggplant, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup yellow onions, cut into small but not tiny pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed or finely chopped
  • 2 peppers any color, cut into small chunks
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 ½ cups good-quality canned tomatoes and their juice
  • For the polenta:
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 ¾ cups yellow cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Instructions

  1. Coat the zucchini chunks in 1 tablespoon of flour by dumping the flour into a bowl with the zucchini and mixing them with your hands. Using a second bowl, do the same with the eggplant pieces. Add the eggplant to the zucchini and set aside.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and add the chopped onions and mashed or chopped garlic. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally for 3 to 5 minutes, until the onion is transparent.
  3. Add the chopped peppers. Cook on medium heat 4 to 6 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, until the peppers have softened. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.
  4. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil is hot but not smoking, add the zucchini and eggplant. Cook them for approximately 5 minutes, stirring to prevent the flour from burning too much and to cook all sides of the cubes. The flour may stick to the bottom of the pan, but over the next steps, you'll be able to pull most or all of it off — and stir it back into the stew — with the wooden spoon.
  5. Add the peppers, onion and garlic back into the pan. Sprinkle the thyme and lightly salt and pepper the mixture. Place a tight cover on the skillet and cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The tight cover is required so that the zucchini and eggplant "sweat" and the water recirculates back into the stir instead of evaporating off, which it would not do if the cover is not tight.
  6. Uncover and raise the heat to medium. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook it for 25 to 30 minutes at a low simmer. Add salt and pepper. The flavor of ratatouille deepens and improves if you let it sit for at least 3 or 4 hours.
  7. Make the polenta: Bring water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter and stir until melted.
  8. Serve vegetables on top of polenta with crusty bread. Serves 4 to 6.
Source: motherwouldknow.com

From the food editor: A recipe for hearty winter ratatouille 02/15/16 [Last modified: Monday, February 22, 2016 10:54am]
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