Friday Recipe: Ratatouille

In the autumn, every warm day feels like a gift. Here on the hill, we have not yet had frost, and although I am no longer watering the garden, as we have instituted conservation measures because of the lack of September rain, it continues to produce some tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Whatever we aren't growing is easy to get from the farmers' market, but every eggplant also feels like a gift.

This is the perfect time to make ratatouille, while we still can, and on a day when the comfort of a slow-cooked stew will hit the spot. Saturday is forecast to be such a day, chilly and wet. As soon as we get home, I'll turn on the oven and get to chopping.

My recipe - really this one's just a template, too - is inspired by the wonderful writer, adventurer, and practiced palate MFK Fisher. If you haven't yet, read Long Ago in France. You can start it while the ratatouille cooks, instead of doing something fatalistic and useful like the storm windows.

You need a couple good sized eggplants (more if you have a giant oven-safe pot), plenty of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a pepper or two. MFK wrote:

“The first ingredients were and still are eggplant and onions, garlic, green peppers, red peppers, plenty of ripe peeled tomatoes and some good olive oil. Proportions are impossible to fix firmly, since everything changes in size and flavor, but perhaps there should be three parts of eggplant to two of tomatoes and one each of the peppers and the onions and garlic. I really cannot say.

“Everything is sliced, cubed, chopped, minced, and, except for the tomatoes, is put into the pot…thrown in, that is, for the rough treatment pushes down the mass. At the end, when there is less than no room, the tomatoes are cubed or sliced generously across the top, and the lid is pressed down ruthlessly. When it is taken off, a generous amount of olive oil must be trickled over the whole to seep down. Then the lid is put on again. It may not quite fit, but it will soon drop into place. The whole goes into a gentle (300 degree) oven for about as long as one wishes to leave it there, like five or six hours. It should be stirred up from the bottom with a long spoon every couple of hours. It will be very soupy for a time, and then is when it makes a delicious nourishing meal served generously over slices of toasted french bread with plenty of grated dry cheese. Gradually it becomes more solid, as the air fills with the rich waftings which make neighbors sniff and smile. When it reaches the right texture to be eaten as one wishes, even with a fork, the lid can stay off and fresh shelled shrimps be laid amply on the top to turn white before they are stirred in, or small sausages already cooked well in beer or wine..."

Salting the eggplant is not necessary if it is super fresh, but I like the way it soaks up salt.

I added summer squash when I made it a few weeks ago. The last time, I added a hot pepper. I pile up all the vegetables I can get my hands on.

Slow and low is the key. And good bread. We like to add a spoonful of chèvre in each bowl. The leftovers are amazing reheated with a poached egg on top. Bon appetit!

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