If you happened to read my column in the Richmond Times Dispatch a couple of days ago, you're well aware that it's been pasta-world over here for seemingly weeks. Now don't get me wrong. I love pasta as much as you do. However, having made so many batches of it that I lost track, and having eaten every single one...well, you won't be surprised that I'm having the inverse reaction to carb-loading or, at least a temporary carb aversion.
All of which led me to make one of my usual favorite things when I hear the unmistakable call of veggies--ratatouille. Now obviously, ratatouille is normally a summer star, when tomatoes are at their peak and the garden is bursting with basil and parsley. This time I got the urge right after some pre-season weeding when I discovered, to my delight, that my marjoram has taken to the warm winter and is happily bursting forth having decided not to bother with a nap this year.
The knowledge that I had a cache of certified San Marzano tomatoes "with basil leaf" was all it took to set me on my path. The knowledge that with a stash of ratatouille you're well on your way to veggie Nirvana sealed the deal. You can pair it with some lovely softly poached eggs as I've done here for a totally stupendous lunch. You can even mix it with some sautéed Italian sausage and cover it with somehomemade cornmeal biscuits for a sort of ratatouille pot pie if you feel in the mood. And, as always, you can just dish yourself up a great big bowl for a quick reminder that summer is right around the corner.
I suggest you make enough to savor for a few days in all sorts of permutations. It's even perfectly delicious served over pasta with a sprinkle of Parmesian-Reggiano. Just don't expect to run into that incarnation over here anytime soon.
serves 8 - 1o
1 large can San Marzano tomatoes (preferably "with basil leaf")
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh marjoram leaves, chopped (parsley and/or basil leaves may be substituted)
2 teaspoons salt
2 large onions, peeled, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced lengthwise
3 assorted bell peppers--red, orange and yellow, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch-wide pieces
4 medium zucchini (2 pounds total) quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick pieces
1 (2 pound) eggplant, sliced into 1 " cube
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
Combine tomatoes, garlic, marjoram and 1/4 cup of olive oil in a 5-quart heavy pot, bring to a simmer, and simmer covered, stirring occasionally until tomatoes break down and sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add onions with a sprinkle of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 to 12 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer onions to a large bowl. Add 3 more teaspoons of oil and cook the peppers in the same manner. Transfer them to the bowl with the onions and cook the zucchini in the same manner and put them in the bowl. Finally, cook the eggplant in the saucepan, turning the heat to low and stirring it constantly. It will suck up the oil, but don't worry about it and just stir until it is softened, about 10 minutes.
Add the vegetables, remaining salt and pepper to tomato sauce and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour.
Season ratatouille with salt. Cool, uncovered, and serve warm or at room temperature.
--Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook