At the bottom of the bag this week, a beautiful little zucchini. “Oh, god,” I thought, “It’s zucchini season.” I’m used to zucchini season being a time when there is just too much god damn zucchini and too many ways to cook it badly. I’ve never been one to enjoy zucchini so much as to just boil it and eat it, but…I love ratatouille, and guess what? A main ingredient of ratatouille is good old zucchini.
So I cheated a bit this week and went out to the farmer’s market to get a majority of the ingredients in this recipe, but I did get pretty much everything from some local vendor or farm, even if it wasn’t strictly out of my CSA bag.
Ratatouille is fantastic because it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. There is not really a strict list of ingredients. Some people say it really need onions and bell peppers, but I used neither in this recipe. You can dice your vegetables and just bake them all together in a dish, or you can lay them out all fancy-like if that strikes your fancy. What I like about it is that it harkens back to the days of making due with what you had, which is kind of what local eating requires.
My ratatouille is simple with ingredients but a little more complicated with assembly, simply because I enjoy the process, but feel free to simplify your method according to your time, energy, and dedication level. This is a STEW after all. All you need to do is put the chopped up ingredients in a pot and apply heat. If you want to do the simple-yet-fancy version, I’ve detailed the process below.
One small to medium size of each:
eggplant (appx. 167 g)
summer (yellow) squash (appx. 183 g)
zucchini (appx 149 g)
2 vine or beefsteak tomatoes (totaling 290 g)
3-4 cloves garlic (appx 20 g)
6 fresh oregano leaves out of your back yard (or 1/2 tsp dried!)
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pinch of brown or white sugar
pinch sea salt
pinch fresh ground black pepper
3/4-1 cup local goats milk feta- you can also use fresh mozzarella, or your choice. Locally made cheese is super pricey but also worth its weight in gold. Soapbox moment: The price of locally made cheese reflects the actual cost and effort that it takes to make cheese out of mass, industrial production and without subsidies. When you spend more on cheese, it can help place it in the category of “special” and “precious,” which in turn can help you eat a healthier portion of it. Cheese packs a punch in calories, so you really don’t need much of it to reap the benefits! If you cannot afford to buy local cheese, make the best choice to balance your financial needs with your food ethics! Anyway…
For the end:
6 leaves fresh basil
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 pinch salt
3 thick slices locally made whole wheat bread- I am very fortunate, living in Boulder, that there are people around who are sourcing their wheat from heirloom, organic growers of wheat in Kansas, which could easily be argued as not local to Colorado, but I think is relatively close, especially in terms of wheat. I use this bread instead of pasta, which might normally be paired with this dish because it’s easier to get locally sourced bread than pasta.
This dish is best prepared in an iron skillet, but you can also use a deep pan.
Firstly, trim eggplant, both squashes and tomatoes of stems, then slice each tip to tail into disks appx. 1/8 in thick. Don’t be a perfectionist. Set each aside without mixing them together. Mince the garlic and place into an iron skillet under medium heat along with 1 Tbsp olive oil, minced fresh oregano, pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, and pinch of fresh black pepper. Let cook gently for about 30 seconds, then turn the heat down to super low and spread out garlic evenly across the pan.
Begin placing vegetable disks into skillet in spiraled layers (á la Ratatouille the movie). Start on the outer edge of the pan, working your way around and then into the middle. I lay down the vegetables in this order: eggplant, tomato, three yellow squash slices, three zucchini slices, and repeat as below:
Once your veggies are placed in the pan, cover and let cook for about 5 minutes on low, then turn up the heat to medium and drizzle balsamic vinegar over the veggies, cover again and let cook another 10 minutes. The slow cooking of the balsamic with carmelize the bottoms of the veggies! After 10 minutes, get a fork and poke the zucchini to see if it is soft. If not, cook as long as it take to get those bad boys soft but not mushy.
Once the veggies seem mostly cooked, crumble the goats milk feta over the top of the veggies, distributing it evenly. Turn off the stovetop, and turn oven on low broil. Place the entire pan in the oven, up pretty high. Let broil for about five minutes, until your cheese is melty and toasted. Remove and drizzle the top with olive oil, sprinkle a little salt.
Chop up that fresh basil and sprinkle it over the top as well. Voilà! Serve with a slice of toasted bread.
All together, including the bread and local cheese, this meal is 97% local- yeehaw!
This makes about three servings, and including the slice of bread, the nutrition looks like this:
Remember, don’t hesitate to simplify this recipe, add onion, pepper, etc.