As summer turns into fall, Atlantans still have a few weeks left to enjoy the vegetable bounty – the ripe tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini and summer squash that are bursting from Atlanta gardens and filling up local farmers’ markets.
Cooking each of these ingredients individually can lead to some outstanding dishes – roasting or grilling, boiling or sautéing, even covering with creamy canned soups and baking in a casserole. But there is a recipe that will use up whatever amounts of these vegetables you have on hand – the classic French vegetable stew known as ratatouille. Gather your vegetables and create this comforting stew, served Georgia-style over creamy grits.
Bell peppers are reliably mild, but peppers a little higher on the Scoville scale may be used, just be cautious when handling and taste as you go.
2 medium eggplant, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 large onions, peeled, halved, each half cut into 4 wedges
2 medium zucchini, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
2 medium yellow crookneck squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
4 large tomatoes, cored and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
2 bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
A handful of fresh basil, sliced into thin ribbons
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
1. Eggplant prep: follow this step only if using the large globe eggplants which tend to be bitter. If cooking with the smaller Asian eggplants, proceed to the next step. Set up a colander over a larger bowl and place eggplant in colander. Pour about a tablespoon of salt onto the eggplant and toss. Let eggplant drain for about 30 minutes.
2. In a large oven-proof pot with a lid, pour in all but 3 tablespoons of oil and turn heat to medium. Add garlic and onion and bring to a boil. Let cook for about 30 minutes while prepping the remaining ingredients. Stir frequently.
3. Heat oven to 450 and get out a half-sheet pan or a large cast-iron skillet. Pour eggplant and squash and zucchini onto the pan, pour remaining three tablespoons oil and some salt and pepper on the vegetables and set in oven to roast for about 30 minutes. Look for a touch of caramel brown on the edges of the vegetables, not blackened.
4. In a food processor, puree the tomatoes and peppers. Add the puree and tomato paste to the onion and garlic oil and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.
5. When tomato/onion/garlic/oil mixture is a rich red color, stir in roasted vegetable mixture. Taste mixture for seasoning, adding salt, pepper and basil.
6. Turn oven to 300 and set Dutch oven with stew inside. Cover with lid. Let ratatouille cook for at least one hour. Remove pot from oven and let cool before serving.
Ratatouille is traditionally served over a starch such as polenta or couscous. Try ratatouille Southern style, spooned over a warm bowl of creamy grits.
2 cups water
1 cup chickenor vegetable broth
1 cup milk
1 cup grits
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. In a medium saucepan, preferably nonstick, combine all liquids and place over medium heat. Slowly whisk in grits. Bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally, and cook until the grits are smooth and free of lumps.