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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007 01:58 am

Summer’s last stew

These are strange times for those who like to eat seasonally

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PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN/MCT
Untitled Document The calendar says October, which, in theory, means that 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, 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 a 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 mОlange 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 underfoot. It is the perfect bridge to fall.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
Ratatouille Adapted from Ready When You Are: A Compendium of Comforting One-Dish Meals, by Martha Rose Shulman
1 1/2 pounds eggplant    (one large globe eggplant or three thinner    Asian eggplants) Salt 3 tablespoons olive oil Two medium onions, thinly sliced Three red or yellow bell peppers, julienned Four to six garlic cloves, minced One large yellow or green zucchini, cut into    half-inch slices Black pepper to taste 3/4 pound tomatoes   (three or four medium tomatoes)
One bay leaf 1 or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves    (1/2-1 teaspoon dried) 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves   (1/2 teaspoon dried)
Chopped fresh basil and parsley to taste,    for garnish
Cut eggplant into half-inch cubes. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain about 30 minutes (not necessary, but it does help 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 to 20 minutes, until the eggplant is lightly browned and fragrant. Remove casserole from oven and set aside. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender, about five minutes. Stir in peppers and a generous pinch of salt; cook until peppers are softened, five to 10 minutes. Stir in half of the garlic and cook for another minute, then season with salt and pepper and transfer to the casserole with the eggplant. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet and add zucchini and more salt and pepper to taste, then cook until zucchini is tender but still bright, five to 10 minutes. Stir in remaining garlic, then transfer to the casserole. Add tomatoes to the casserole, plus the 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 six servings. Will keep in fridge for about 5 days.
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