I’ve been sick for over a week. Sneezing, coughing, sniffling sick. And to top it off, I’m the midst of planning the first large fundraiser for my nonprofit, to be held on October 12th. Spending my days running around to the banquet hall, to the various art studios to pick out paintings for our silent auction, choosing menus (not as fun as I thought it would be), and dealing with so many people I can’t keep track of who’s who, I’m over tired, under hydrated and all in all bummed. The changing of the seasons hasn’t helped the situation (actually, I’m sure it caused it) since I don’t know whether I’ll be chilly or sweating when I chose the clothes to wear. I’m usually happy it’s fall, because that means butternut squash and pumpkin-spiced cake, but getting sick this year on the cusp of autumn dampened my spirits.
Then last night, to my horror, I saw that the tomatoes and peppers I found at the farmer’s market this weekend were beginning to mold. I had to act fast. I found some extra zucchini and a newly purchased eggplant in the fridge and ratatouille came to mind.
As it turns out, ratatouille was just what I needed to bump away the blues—it showcased the end of summer vegetables and warmed up my newly chilled bones. And, best of all, it’s a very healthy dish, full of that good antioxidant junk that makes you allll better.
Please don’t get turned off by ratatouille because of all the chopping you need to do. The recipe works in stages, so there’s no need to rush yourself chopping everything all at once. Good knife skills help the process, so knowing how to properly chop an onion or an eggplant makes a big difference. To cut an onion, first you slice both the root end and the top end, making it easy to stand the onion on your cutting board. Remove the skin and stand up your onion. Make vertical slices across the onion’s top, making sure not to slice completely through the onion (it should remain in its intact round shape.) Then, turn the onion 90º and make the another set of vertical slices across the onion—you’ll end up with a crosshatch pattern. Now, carefully stand the onion on its side (it will teeter) and, being careful of your fingers, slice the onion—nice diced pieces should fall from the onion onto the cutting board. This size is perfect for the ratatouille, but if you need smaller pieces, mince the diced pieces until you reach the desired size. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a snap.
Time to completion: 90 minutes.
Equipment: Large dutch oven, chef’s knife, cutting board, saute pan.
- 2 pounds ripe tomatoes (if they are over ripe, cut off any rotting parts)
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
- 1 green pepper (I used three smaller not-so-hot jalapeno peppers), cored, seeded, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- handful of fresh basil, dried oregano and fresh thyme
- 1 large eggplant, diced into pieces a little larger than the onions and peppers
- 3 medium zucchini, diced the same size as the eggplant
- 7 Tbsp of olive oil, plus 3 Tbsp for each sauteing
- Cut the tomatoes in half, squeeze out the juice and seeds into a small bowl. Dice the tomatoes.
- Pour seeds and juice through a chinois into a large measuring cup. Press seeds with a spatula to get out all liquid. Add enough water into the measuring cup with tomato juice so that you have a total of 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp of liquid. Set aside.
- Heat 7 Tbsp olive oil in a large dutch oven. Add onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add peppers and saute for another 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add the tomato juice and water mixture to the dutch oven along-with the garlic and herbs. Cover and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cook for 30 minutes over a slow, low simmer.
- Place the chopped eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow for it to drain of its moisture for a while.
- Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add chopped zucchini. Saute about 5-10 minutes or until golden on all sides. Remove to a colander to drain. Season with salt, pepper, or any extra herbs you like and add to the dutch oven.
- Remove eggplant from the colander and pat dry with paper towels. Repeat the process of #6 with the eggplant.
- When everything is in the dutch oven, cook over a low simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes. Serve hot or room temp.