Ask Chef Phyllis:
My mother never told me of this season in a marriage—I call it “late-summer boring squash season.” My husband (my “can’t waste anything” backyard gardener) brings me ripe zucchinis, some plump as bowling pins and others as skinny as broomsticks, and stacks these and other late summer veggies such as small peppers, huge eggplants, and cracked tomatoes on the counter.
I’m looking for an easy casserole or dish that uses up almost all of them. Can you help?
—Mary Kaye Snyder from Longmont, Colorado
There’s an amazing recipe called ratatouille that does just that. (Actually, there are numerous Provencal dishes that call for eggplant and zucchini.) I suppose this dish came about out of necessity for exactly the same reason you mention: abundant late summer vegetables. I think this recipe is the best of them. Julia Child said that ratatouille is a delightful dish to use up your produce, whatever the season.
Last year I wrote a post titled “Chef’s Tips for Abundant Summer Zucchini Two Ways.” It was shared a record number of times, signifying the need for such recipes. I hope this will have similar results because we’re all looking to make the best use of this delightful harvest.
This recipe uses eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and Mediterranean seasonings. It freezes well and is especially good with roast meat, egg dishes, steak, chops, and seafood. In our kitchen, we serve it with a cheesy mushroom or artichoke quiche for brunch or a lazy “we were out all day” Sunday night supper.
Garden Ratatouille: Late Summer Variety
This versatile recipe can be doubled or tripled, then frozen. Serve it hot, cold, or warm—it makes a great dish for a picnic or pot luck. Serves 6.
2 large (or 4 small) firm eggplants, cut crosswise into ⅜-inch thick slices, skins on
⅓–½ cup olive oil, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons thyme, oregano, fennel seeds, basil, or your favorite Italian seasoning mix, divided
2–3 medium zucchini, sliced (if large, remove some seedy pulp)
4 cups sliced onions
4–5 green, red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, or a combination
4 cloves garlic, minced
3–4 cups tomato pulp (fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and juiced)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper chili flakes (optional)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, for garnish
Special equipment: jelly roll pan and 4-quart casserole
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil a jelly roll pan. Salt eggplant slices on each side. Lay them in the pan. Paint eggplant with olive oil and sprinkle with 1½ tablespoons of the herbs (reserve other half for the tomato pulp). Bake 15–20 minutes until tender, but do not overcook. Reserve 4 of the best looking eggplant slices.
- Pour 3 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan. Sauté zucchini slices until brown. Remove and drain on paper towels. Add onions, peppers, and garlic. Stir over high heat for several minutes until tender.
- Set aside ½ to ¾ cup of tomato pulp. Pour the rest in the pan, then add the remaining 1½ tablespoons of herbs. Correct seasonings to taste. Continue cooking until most of the tomato pulp has boiled off.
- Butter a casserole. Arrange vegetables in the bottom of the casserole, ending with reserved eggplant slices. Pour reserved tomatoes over the eggplant. Cover the casserole with a lid.
- Cover and bake at 350°F until bubbly, about 40–45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes to dry up some of the liquid.
- Remove from oven. Add the red pepper chili flakes if desired. Evenly sprinkle grated Parmesan and chopped Italian parsley over the top.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products
Creative Commons photo by bnilsen