Ratatouille, the Provençal medley of summer vegetables is traditionally vegan

Ratatouille, the Provençal medley of summer vegetables is traditionally vegan

Lately this summer I seem to be cooking a lot of Provençal dishes, maybe because of the ready availability of Mediterranean vegetables – zucchini, tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplants, fresh herbs -- here now. But I also love food from Provence and the south of France generally.

Plate: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
A classically Mediterranean dish, ratatouille (ra-ta-tóo-ee) is as delicious and complex in flavor as it is colorful with the bright hues of summer. It also has one of the coolest names in the culinary world. The name derives from old Occitan through French and meant “tossed together.” It started as a peasant stew. The vegetable flavors stand out so richly, the absence of meat and dairy goes unnoticed.

The “trick” in making tasty ratatouille is soaking the cut eggplant in salted water before cooking to remove its bitterness. Ratatouille lends itself to either the vegetable course of a meal or to the buffet. The recipe serves six generously.

1 small-medium sized eggplant
4 very small zucchini or 2 medium-small ones
1 medium sweet red pepper
1 medium onion
1 large stick celery
2 medium-large tomatoes, or 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 medium-large clove of garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 large pinch rosemary leaves (fresh preferred)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
3 tablespoons capers, drained
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

Wash eggplant and cut off stem. Peel off four lengthwise strips of skin, leaving part of the skin in between. Cut eggplant lengthwise into quarters, through the peeled part. Cut the quarters into chunks 1-inch long. Soak eggplant 20-30 minutes in well-salted water to remove the bitter juices. Cut zucchini crosswise into 3/4-inch slices. Core red pepper and cut flesh into 1-inch squares. Chop onions coarsely. Cut celery into 1/2-inch lengths on a slight diagonal. If using fresh tomatoes, quarter them and push out the seeds with your fingers, and cut the tomato into 1/2-inch pieces. Mince garlic. Mix herbs and spices with salt in small bowl.

 In a large frying pan or shallow pot, heat olive oil and gently fry onion, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add garlic and celery and fry gently, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Drain eggplant pieces and add them plus zucchini to the pan. Stir and fry 2-3 minutes, adding a little water to keep from sticking. Add red pepper plus herb mixture, and several tablespoons of water. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are becoming tender (10-15 min). Add tomatoes and a little salt. When vegetables are tender, stir in capers. Taste and if necessary add a little more salt. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, sugar and parsley.

This can be served hot now, or cooled and served warm later. When serving, drizzle with a little olive oil and chopped parsley.

Follow Us @donderoskitchen