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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Meatless Monday: Ratatouille

If you hang around the foodie/food activist region of the blogosphere, you may have heard of Meatless Mondays.  Meatless Mondays promote giving up meat for at least one meal per week.  Why? It takes more energy and resources to raise animals for meat than it does to raise plants.  Giving up meat, even just for one meal a week, is a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint.  It can also be friendlier for your wallet.

I frequently cook and order vegetarian meals, even though I am not a vegetarian. I unapologetically adore bacon.  The perfect steak or burger can transport me into foodie bliss.  However, a friend once told me that he had a theory: in general, vegetarian food tastes better so that vegetarians don't miss meat too much.  It's an interesting theory, and I have often found it true.  In fact, in a recent conversation, I learned from DH that he hadn't even noticed how rarely I cook meat. I think it's because I have found so many delicious vegetarian recipes that don't scream MEAT SUBSTITUTE.  This is one of those meals.

Ratatouille, made famous by the Disney movie of the same name, is a French peasant dish from Provence.  No spoilers, but the scenes where the chef prepares ratatouille and serves it to an impossible to please critic are my favorite scenes in the movie.  In the movie, the ratatouille is a work of art. In my own kitchen, it's somewhat less elegant.  However, it is so delicious that my carnivore dad requested in even when chemotherapy made food less appealing, and my carnivore husband scraped his bowl clean last night.

Ratatouille--Based on Julia Child's recipe

This dish features summer vegetables, and the fresher the better. If possible, get them at a farmers market. Not only will they be flavorful and fresh, you will be supporting small farms and local economies!

3 medium eggplants, sliced 1/8" thick
4 zucchinis, sliced, sliced 1/8" thick
Olive oil
2 bell peppers, julienned (any two colors)
1 onion, sliced 1/8" rings
4 tomatoes, cubed, with seeds and juices reserved
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper

1. Toss the zucchini and eggplant with 1 teaspoon of salt. Let stand for 30 minutes, then rinse, drain, and pat dry.  (Last night, I forgot to rinse them but we didn't notice any problem). This is a good time to chop the rest of the veggies and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat and lightly fry the zucchini and eggplant for one to two minutes on each side.  They should be just turning brown.  Take the zucchini and eggplant out and put in a bowl on the side.
3. Lower the heat to medium and in the same pan, saute the bell peppers and onion until tender but not browned, 6-8 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until the garlic is fragrant.
5. Add the tomatoes, reserved seeds and juices, herbes de provence, thyme, and sugar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, then cover.  Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stir, then raise the heat and boil for 3-5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Remove half of the mixture to a bowl.
6. Spread the remaning tomato mixture across the bottom of the skillet.  Layer half of the zucchini and eggplant slices across the top (in a circular pattern if you're feeling fancy). Add the rest of the tomato mixture and the parsley, then layer the remaining zucchini and eggplant in the same fashion as before.
7. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Uncover and baste with remaining juices. Cook for another 15 minutes.
8. Using the back of a spoon, create two indentations in the mixture. Crack an egg into each well. (DH suggested doing this with four eggs instead of two).
9. Cover the pan and put the whole shebang into the oven for six to eight minutes. You want the egg whites to be cooked but the yolks to still be a bit runny.
10. Serve in a shallow bowl.  Crusty bread and a green salad make great accompaniments. Even better, serve with a glass of wine.

(Next time, hopefully I'll remember to take a picture!)

Note: I based this recipe on one that I found on a blog and printed out. Unfortunately, I didn't write down which blog. If you've seen a similar recipe around, let me know so I can give proper credit! Also, if you're in a hurry, you can truncate some of the cooking times. I cut out the second cook time in step 7 because DH is not a fan of soft veggies.  The longer cooking time does allow flavors to meld together.

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