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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ratatouille Riot

This past week I agreed to purchase a basket of peppers for a fundraiser for an eight grade class. As a teaching lesson and  fundraiser, they harvested the peppers from a local farm and dropped them off for delivery. Worthy cause.  Nobody could actually tell me what kind of peppers I had ordered, only that the basket would contain a variety pf peppers.  All righty then, I'm fairly flexable.  I'd deal with a variety.

They arrived in a cute little brown paper bag labeled very simply, "PEPPERS".
The bag full of peppers glowed with many colors.  I was impressed.  The problem was I couldn't identify half of them.  There was a red bell pepper, a green bell pepper, a few banana peppers, jalapenos, and slew of gorgeous mysterious ones. Hmmm.  There were too many peppers to plan several meals around, so I thought I'd just cook up a big batch of something.  Pepper Pot Stew?  Fajitas for 20?  Hungarian Goulash?
The following morning at the farmers market, I stumbled upon long slim purple and white Japanese eggplants at Henkle's Heirloom Farm stand., home of the Big Ugly Tomatoes.  I snagged a few eggplants and a bag of Big Uglies.

With a slight chill in the air,  after a cold front whiffed through, I thought a roasted late summer ratatouille would solve the pepper dilemna and let me use the beautiful Japanese eggplants.

After a bit of prep work, the ratatouille practically cooked itself.  It was not a traditional long simmered stew of peppers and eggplant.  I chose a lazy method, roasting all the vegetables while I enjoyed a few glasses of wine.
Slicing and chopping.  I sliced the eggplants on a bias, salted them to release their liquid, and let them drain in a colander for 30 minutes.  While they dripped eggplant juice, I halved all the peppers, deseeded them, and set them aside.  I sliced a few onions, cut four baby zucchini into oblique triangles, and halved three roma tomatoes.

When the oven reached a high temperature of 450, I tossed all the vegetables with olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon zest (not at all traditional), and slid them into the oven to roast  On a whim, I tossed in a few unpeeled garlic cloves for sweet roasted garlic punch.  The vegetables roasted for 30 minutes until broken down and caramelized.  After a few glasses of wine, texting, and great conversation with Michael, I took the wonderfully caramelized vegetables out of the oven to cool.  Once cooled, I tossed them together and scattered fresh torn basil over the top.  It wasn't a stew.  It was a big bowl of roasted stuff.

First course:  I wanted to finish the "ratatouille" with something, so I blitzed up a fresh tomato vinaigrette in our cranky blender.  Using two chopped over-ripe big uglies, I blended rice wine vinegar, basil, salt, and pepper until mixed before drizzling olive oil into the blender to emulsify the vinaigrette.  Plated, drizzled, and served.

Second course: I wanted to take it one step further.  I took the remaining roasted vegetables and dumped them into a dutch oven.  After pureeing the rest of the big uglies, I added them to the pot with two cups of vegetable stock to simmer and marry before pureeing the entire pot in batches for soup. Pureed Roasted Ratatouille Soup. It might have been  a bit heavy handed, but summer is winding down.

While the soup puree simmered, I made tiny croutons for garnish.   Baked or fried croutons?  Being a Libra,  and not wanting to tip the scale, I made both.  The fried croutons were decadent, bursting with grease pockets.  Perfect for shiny hair. The baked croutons were safer and healthier, snapping with  crunch.  Pick your pleasure.

Parsley finished off the soup with optional grated aged goat cheese and sour cream.
It was a riot of ratatouille.

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