Memories of Tuscany Part II (or how to start 2012 on a relatively healthy note)

Starting a new year means taking stock of so many things, one of which for me was making a list of all the recipes I’d like to share in the near future. So I made a list (which is what one does) and it was too long. So then I looked at promises I’ve made to my readers, and realized that I’d promised one reader that I would post my ratatouille (caponata) recipe a while ago, so I’m not putting it off any longer.

Ratatouille

So what’s  ratatouille got to do with Tuscany, you are probably asking….Well, back to my trip to Italy last year for the baseball tournament. As Shabbat approached, it was time to cook food that we could schlepp back from our wonderful Tuscan kitchen to our hotel to heat up on platot/blechs/hot plates. One of the most fitting side dish for reheating was clearly ratatouille, which has lots of sauce so doesn’t dry out on the hot plate. Esther, the coach’s wife, who was a lifesaver in the kitchen and elsewhere during the tournament, struck up a discourse with our kitchen host Andrea about ratatouille vs. the Italian version called caponata. The main difference between the two is the addition of capers to caponata, which you don’t have in ratatouille. I stuck to the French version much to the chagrin of my Italian hosts, but I wasn’t sure if my 11-year-olds would take to capers.

Oddly, my method of prep had a lot to do with the length of the baseball game. When I arrived at the field, I rushed into the kitchen, peeled and chopped the eggplant and chopped the zucchini. I salted them to draw the bitterness out. I then went off the the hour and a half game, so that was at least how long the eggplant and zucchini sat in the salt. I am sure that the success of the dish was thanks to this thorough salting. And it was a success – you know it tastes good when kids are eating it. One father who accompanied us, couldn’t stop talking about it, even after his return to Israel. David, this one’s for you!

RATATOUILLE  

Ingredients

1 large eggplant

4 medium zucchinis

2 onions

2 large red peppers chopped into bite sized pieces

4-5 fresh, ripe tomatoes peeled and chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

4-5 large cloves of garlic, crushed

200 g (7 oz) tomato paste

½ cup of chicken stock or white wine

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried or fresh chopped basil

1 teaspoon dried or fresh oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

How to do it

1. Peel the eggplant and chop into bite size pieces, chop the zucchini into bite sized pieces. Place in a colander and salt (place in layers and salt each layer lightly so all the pieces get salted). Leave to sit for at least an hour and a half over a plate that will catch the liquid.

The longer you leave the salted eggplant and zucchini to sit, the more bitter liquid is extracted

2. Heat the oil in a large pot and chop the onion into large pieces (I halve each onion and cut each half length-ways into three, and then I halve each segment). Add the onions to the oil and saute for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the peppers, eggplant and zucchini to the pot, stirring occasionally, and saute on medium heat for another few minutes until the veggies just start getting some color.

4. Add the garlic and stir quickly so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.

5. Immediately add the fresh tomatoes and stir.

6. Add the tomato paste, stock/wine, herbs and sugar. Stir and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the eggplant is completely soft. Don’t rush cooking this dish. The longer it simmers, the more delicious it gets.

Serves about 8 people as a side dish.

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