Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Market To Table, Plus Plantation Again

As I noted last time I was at the market, eggplants are coming in like crazy, so before heading out today, I spent some time researching things to do with them. Paula Wolfert had an astonishing-looking dish of duck legs with olives and sauteed eggplant which I'll almost certainly attempt next time I have something to celebrate (if eggplants are still in season then), but a more down-home idea was ratatouille, the classic eggplant, zucchini, and tomato stew. I found a recipe in Susan Herrmann Loomis's French Farmhouse Cookbook and made a list.

Weirdly, a lot of the stupendous-looking eggplants that seemed to be everywhere on Saturday were missing today. There were white ones that looked like cast alabaster, and white ones with purplish blotches, but they were missing today. Also, the ones that looked like they were made from obsidian were missing, but there were enough choices that I finally got some decent-looking ones. Without buying anything exotic, I managed to hit my ten-euro limit today. Some representatives of the haul:

More very thin green-beans, one of two green peppers, some heirloom tomatoes of various sorts on the left of the zucchini (one of two), two of the three eggplants, a nice head of lettuce and a couple of the roma tomatoes that would be integrated into the dish.

Because of the amount of cooking involved, and the fact that I had to listen carefully to a record I have just gotten (easily done while going through motions like cutting green peppers into tiny cubes) I decided to cook the ratatouille early in the afternoon and warm it up later. I also wanted to be able to smell it as it cooked: the chronic sinusitis is still with me, and my ability to smell and taste fades suddenly about 8:30pm. I have no idea why this is. Some day I hope to have the money to see the oto-naso-laryngologist just up the hill who's been recommended to me, but it hasn't happened yet.

Thus, I slowly sauteed onions in olive oil, followed that up with the green peppers, then the zucchini, all while the eggplant cubes, tossed with oil, were roasting in the oven. After the sauteeing, there was a bit of boiling as I took a pound of roma tomatoes, peeled them, cubed them, and put them in a pan with some garlic and some thyme. Here, minus the still-roasting eggplant, is the result:

Clockwise, from top left, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and zucchini. Dig how tiny my stovetop is, too. Cooking here is a true pain in the butt.

The tomatoes and the eggplant were done at the same time, and I had a surprise: the eggplant was crisp, airy, almost weightless. I mixed everything together, and here's what it looked like:

I'm not at all sure about this, though. I took a couple of spoonfuls to see if it needed salt or something, and the eggplant was weirdly textured. I'm thinking that perhaps roasting it wasn't the best idea, or perhaps the oven was too hot. Another good reason (besides the flavors blending) to leave it sitting for a while is that some of the moisture from the other stuff can perhaps leach into the eggplant. I'm definitely going to research a couple of alternative recipes for the next time I do this: this is a quantity that'll last for a couple of dinners, after all (it also works as a side dish to an appropriately strong main dish), and I don't like the idea of dreading my own cooking.

Ms. Loomis notes that this should be served with a Côtes de Languedoc or Côtes de Provence rosé, and, as the astronauts used to say, that's a big can-do, ma'am. I think I'll also score a baguette.

Meanwhile, the growing-stuff-at-home experiment continues, and just check out the huge advance since my last posting. Once again, tomatillos at the top, jalapeños on the left, serranos on the right. I still don't anticipate a harvest before September, but I'm very encouraged by how quickly these things are growing.


  1. I like to roast red pepper for this dish but when it comes to the aubergine and courgette I genuflect in the direction of Delia Smith (the bossy Head Girl of Brit cooking): cut thick slices, salt, weigh down and leave for an hour to sweat. When adding to cook, keep 'em chunky.

  2. This is so awesome I'm going to link to it on my blog!

  3. Yeah, we adore spam blogs.

    And Arabella, of course I salted and sweated the eggplant/aubergine. Thing is, some of it burned. I found another recipe where you bake the eggplant *and* the zucchini/courgette (how come you Brits use French terms for these vegetables, huh?) at even higher heat. I'm still researching. Speaking of bossy ladies, I have yet to check Elizabeth David...

  4. I'm curious about the oven temp...the way we make Ratatouille at work involves a few extra veggies (summer squash and yellow bells mainly come to mind), but basically everything gets a 1" dice, eggplants are striped (half peeled), and all is tossed in olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, chopped parsley...put on a sheet tray and roasted for 10 minutes at 350, turned, another 10, then tossed with a crushed tomato mixture which includes oregano and garlic...this keeps the Rat (which is what everyone in the industry calls the dish in the USA) & specifically the eggplant from drying out...after tossing with crushed tomato, roasted another 15 minutes...did you know that folks from Central America don't have a word for Eggplant? And once I knew this Dutch woman who had a cat named Aubergine...

  5. That sounds a *lot* more sensible than what I did. (Although summer squash = zucchini from any botanical viewpoint; we can even get yellow zucchini and yellow-and-green striped ones here, and yellow bell peppers aren't *that* much different from the green ones). Only thing I don't like about your approach is how much oven-time there is. It's hot here, too, ya know.

  6. that makes sense--I can see how that might be a lot of oven time--I'd do it in the oven for 10-15 minutes before adding the crushed tomato mix (long enough to roast it a bit and make the eggplant, etc. a bit soft)--then maybe 10-15 more


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