It is hard to think about turning on the oven when it is so hot and humid outside. It is ironic to me that during the summer when the sun and the heat produces abundant amounts of fruits and vegetables, turning on a heat source to cook vegetables, or anything else for that matter, is the last thing on our mind. Fortunately fruits and vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked, hot or cold. During this crazy hot weather it is ideal to be thrifty and make one meal that can be used later for several additional meals.
Ratatouille is just that kind of dish. It can be used as a side dish with grilled meats or fish, a sauce to cook eggs or fish in, a sauce to mix with pasta or other grain for a vegetarian entrée. Ratatouille is so versatile it is worth turning on the oven once for the additional meals that can be served with it afterwards.
I was not a huge fan of ratatouille until I tried this recipe from Mark Bittman at cooking.nytimes.com. One reason being, I first learned to cook ratatouille by sautéing each vegetable separately then combining all the vegetables in a crock and bake until bubbly. No thanks. There can be at least five different vegetables and that is just too laborious for a summer’s day. Secondly, I like eggplant but I do not love it, so making something with eggplant is not my first idea or inspiration. Eggplant is a stunning and beautiful plant. The color is one of my favorites and why I haven’t dismissed it altogether. The flavor, by itself, just does not excite me. With this recipe the eggplant helps give ratatouille body developing on the classic pairing of eggplant and tomatoes. The fennel and fresh herbs makes the ratatouille fresh. Each ingredient adds a layer of flavor to create a medley of roasted vegetables that does not feel heavy.
Three aspects make this recipe stand out: fennel, chickpeas and the simple preparation. The fennel lightens the flavor of the roasted vegetables and the chickpeas turn it into a substantial meal when served as a vegetarian/vegan entrée. I also find the concentrated sweetness of the roasted red peppers gives the ratatouille its depth of flavor and body. Thanks to Mark Bittman, who was the Minimalist Chef for the Times after-all, the cooking process is simple and effective. There is no need to sauté each ingredient separately. Add a large handful of fresh herbs and the ratatouille will be bright like the beautiful summer day you are experiencing.
Turn on the oven for one hour and you will have created a mixed vegetable cornucopia that you can enjoy, for two to three additional meals. Fennel and chickpea ratatouille can be a vegetable side dish, (tonight I am serving my ratatouille with lamb burgers,) or serve ratatouille as a sauce for pasta or mixed with your favorite grain. You can serve this ratatouille on grilled toasts or make an open face sandwich by adding cheese and putting it under the broiler for lunch or an appetizer. Add a fried egg to the ratatouille and you have a great breakfast or light dinner. No recipe needed for the additional meals, just imagine and go. The possibilities are endless.
Don’t throw out your chickpea water, make aquafaba meringue cookies
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