The Ratatouille Principle

This is more a principle than a recipe because itís so variable and versatile, and my use of peppers and corn is not traditional ratatouille.  When tomatoes are scarce or the quality doesnít look as good as you expect at the end of the sauteeing, you can always consider adding a bit of tomato paste or some canned tomatoes.  When summer green beans or sugar snap peas look great, toss some in.  Prefer other herbs to basil?  Go ahead.  Whatever you like.  It should still be pretty good, and has a good chance of being GREAT. 

Corn makes the dish for me; the classic doesnít include it but it is ripe with the tomatoes and can bring a crispness and rich sweet base to counterbalance the tart sweet depth of the tomatoes and itís brilliant.

If you are making this for a large group dinner and it will be consumed all at once, you can cook some of the vegetables separately in a saute pan and put the cooked vegetables together in a larger pot as they are finished, keeping them just gently warmed for the flavors to meld; this gives you a better chance of optimizing the textures of each vegetable.  I usually am making this for me to freeze ahead & eat later, so I'm less concerned about perfect texture that will be a little degraded by the freeze/thaw anyway. 

Per 1 onion, multiply up as you please

Several cloves of garlic (to your taste)

Olive oil

Onions, sliced to your preference (fine dice/thick rings, you pick)

1-3 Fresh tomatoes, really really ripe, fresh, probably you can do it with canned added at a later point in the cooking, but I save this for summer & fall when the fresh are brilliant; cut into quarters or slice or however you like

1 small eggplant (optional), sliced or diced as you like

Mix of sweet and hot peppers, your choice but I like 2-3 sweet (ripe bells, anaheims, sweet italian chilis) and 1-3 hot (ripe red jalapenos or fresno or other per your choice),depending on how hot per onion's worth, stemmed, seeded, sliced & diced to your preference

2-4 summer squash, ideally not giant baseball-bat style zukes, sliced or diced

(vegetable stock)

1 ear of corn, sliced off the stalk, cob scraped with the back of the knife to get all the corny goodness (germ, liquid) into the pot
1 handful or small bunch of greens (optional)

Half pint to a pint of rich vegetable stock (optional) or quick stock made with trimmings and the corn cobs and cooked under pressure 10 minutes while the rest is simmering

Pine nuts (optional)

I put the garlic first by itself because I like to "tame" it.  I separate a head of garlic into cloves but don't bother peeling them.  I place them in the microwave, scattered on the rotating plate, and zap them full power until they start 'popping' (in mine, it's 20-40 seconds until this happens), wait a few more seconds (only a few), and pull them out.  The skins will be loose and opened, and you can pop them off easily.  Then I put them through the garlic press, and the result is richly nutty garlicky  but not bitter or biting; it's as tamed as if it was roasted in the oven without heating up the whole oven.  You can also peel them raw and slice and dice if you prefer knife work & sharp, biting garlic to lazy zap & pressed mellow garlic.

Then start with olive oil (and a little butter too if you like) and saute the onions....depending on my mood sometimes heat them gently until they're just barely getting translucent and soft but still pale; sometimes I do it over higher heat to brown their edges; sometimes I go for carmelized.  Remember they're going to be cooked more with everything else.  Add the garlic along with the tomatoes in the next step.

Then add the tomatoes, stir until theyíre softening and releasing a lot of liquid.  Add the squash, eggplant if using, and peppers, and stir more until they get a touch browned for more flavor in the final dish.

Add the corn and stock or a bit of water to cover the vegetables, simmer a few minutes, stir in the herbs, pine nuts if using; correct seasonings, salt, pepper, and enjoy.

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