Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Once upon a time before I was married I travelled to France and had my first culinary experience with Ratatouille. I loved it, it was a perfect lunch served at room temperature in the heat of Nice, but I had no idea then that I would be making it for the rest of my life! That is because the same dish in Italy is known as Peperonata, and it was a mainstay of Adriana's kitchen, particularly as the summer morphed into fall and the vegetables became overly plentiful. Put another way, what do you do with all those zucchini? We have always grown our own vegetables, although eggplant proves very difficult (read impossible) to produce in this distinctly non-mediteranean climate. I do make this dish all year round, though, and if I don't have the ingredients in the garden, I purchase them. This is a vegetarian stew, easy to make and delicious served hot or at room temperature, as a main or as a side.
Goes well with fish or chicken, summer grills or winter dishes.
Assemble the vegetables. Adriana used whatever she had, as follows:
Peppers, any colour or mixed. (Hence the name--Peperonata.)
Onions, 1 or 2 big ones.
Tomatoes, 3 or 4 (or 1 large tin Italian peeled Plum tomatoes with juice.)
Get a good handful of Basil, some Parsley, and a few cloves of garlic.
Now stop and admire the beauty of these--the eggplant with their shiny purple skins, the green zucchini, the orange-red tomatoes. Gorgeous! Maybe you should paint them instead of cooking them. Oh, sorry. Just an aside.
Get out a good-sized heavy pot with a lid.
Chop up all the vegetables, not too small, maybe about 2 in. chunks.
Put a drizzle of oil in the bottom of the pot and add the vegetables, the raw ones first,including chopped garlic, as much as you like. Cook and stir a bit and add the canned tomatoes if using. (You might have enough ripe fresh tomatoes.) Add some chopped Basil,and parsley if you like.
Cook and stir until the veggies are soft, and salt to taste.
Adriana cooked this in a cast-iron pot on a wood stove which I swear imparts a special flavour I have never been able to replicate. She would cook the Peperonata until the vegetables were pretty much indistinguishable.
I cook it a bit less than that, and you should take it off the heat when it looks and tastes the way you want it to.
Serve it hot or at room temperature. Adriana always topped it with a good handful of grated Montasio (or Parmigiano), which looks and tastes wonderful and may be the only thing distinguishing this from Ratatouille.
Garnish the serving dish with more Basil.
This is great taken for a picnic, too. Travels well.