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Kitchen Witch - Summer's last stew

Ratatouille

The calendar says October, which, in theory, means autumn is here. What Mother Nature does, as she makes the transition from sandals to boots, is another story. She's a roller coaster of seasonal emotions — one day she's having hot flashes (as I write, the expected highs in D.C. are 90 degrees), the next day she's spewing icicles (I'll never forget watching snow fall in Chicago one Oct. 6 many years ago).

For those who like to eat seasonally, these are strange times: Will it be a gazpacho or chili night? I feel like Goldilocks; nothing seems to be just right.

The trick, it seems, is to stay focused and resist nature's wild mood swings. Summer is over, people, and the proper way to say goodbye and get on with things is to make ratatouille. A mélange of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, garlic and leafy herbs, ratatouille is the sum of summer's parts, it's the ultimate denouement, a fitting tribute to the glory season, a toast to fun in the sun.

And yet, even with its light, bright and gardeny nature, a bowl of ratatouille warms the belly as the sun sets and the leaves rustle under foot. It is the perfect bridge to fall.

Ratatouille

Adapted from Ready When You Are: A Compendium of Comforting One-Dish Meals by Martha Rose Shulman

1 1/2 pounds eggplant (1 large globe eggplant or 3 thinner Asian eggplants)

Salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

3 red or yellow bell peppers, julienned

4-6 garlic cloves, minced

1 large yellow or green zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices

Black pepper to taste

3/4 pound tomatoes (3-4 medium tomatoes)

1 bay leaf

1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (1/2-1 teaspoon dried)

1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)

Chopped fresh basil and/or parsley to taste, for garnish

Cut eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain about 30 minutes (not necessary, but it does help to release water). Heat oven to 500 degrees.

Place drained eggplant in a large, ovenproof casserole and toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place in oven and roast 15-20 minutes, until eggplant is lightly browned and fragrant.

Remove from oven and set aside. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in peppers and a generous pinch of salt; cook until peppers are softened, 5-10 minutes.

Stir in half the garlic and cook for another minute, then season with salt and pepper and transfer to casserole with eggplant.

Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in skillet and add zucchini, more salt and pepper to taste, and cook until zucchini is tender but still bright, 5-10 minutes. Stir in remaining garlic, then transfer to casserole.

Add tomatoes to casserole, plus herbs and more salt and pepper to taste. Toss everything together and cook mixture over medium-low heat. Cover and cook for at least 15 minutes, stirring often.

Mixture should be fragrant, veggies tender but still bright. Adjust seasonings as necessary. Remove bay leaf and herb sprigs, if necessary. Stir in basil and parsley just before using.

Makes 6 servings. Will keep in fridge for about 5 days.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.



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