22 August 2012

Home For Lunch

By Trudy Toliver, Executive Director, Portland Farmers Market

I went home for lunch today.  That almost never happens. After the 12 minute drive I was scratching the chin of my wriggling pet while my husband stepped up grinning with curiosity.  He was probably thinking, oh, how sweet, she’s come home to see me.  No sense in squashing that notion.  I smiled back and said, have you had lunch?

Earlier, in the office at my computer, I started to get hungry, the happy-it’s-almost-lunchtime kind of hunger.  I knew what I was craving. Then I remembered what I had forgotten.  Oh, crud, last night’s ratatouille was still in the fridge at home.  I’d forgotten to pack my treasured meal.

Eggplant, pre-ratatouille. Photo by Allison Jones.

Always better the second and third days, I make a big batch of ratatouille so it lasts the week. Harbingers of the richest harvest and the coming of autumn, ratatouille ingredients are each my favorite of the year. I know, don’t rush summer, but it takes hot days to ripen peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini.

Annually, when my best girlfriends and I gather we make the stew.  One year on a trip to Idaho we bought the riches from a Sun Valley organic farmer.  Another time they were found at the farm stand in Sisters, Oregon.  This year, as most often for me, every stitch of it came from vendors at Portland Farmers Market or my own garden.

You’ll find dozens of recipes for ratatouille, a classic dish of the Provence region of France.  Some suggest cooking each of the vegetables separately then stirring them together in the end.  That’s too much work for me.  Although, cooking the eggplant separately is worthwhile.  Try sautéing it dusted with flour, it browns beautifully, holds its body and doesn’t hog all of the olive oil.  I’ve adapted this recipe from one I found 11 years ago in Yoga Journal.

(serves 4-6)

1 eggplant, about 1 pound
2-4 tablespoons flour, optional
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 large sweet red, yellow or orange pepper, diced
1 medium zucchini, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme or a few fresh sprigs
1 teaspoon dried oregano or a few fresh sprigs
black pepper and/or 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (I love this addition)
½ cup red wine or dry white wine or stock
1 pound or about 4 medium sized tomatoes, chopped, skins removed optional
sea salt
¼ cup fresh basil leaves thinly sliced
1 cup freshly grated asiago or parmesan cheese, strong gouda works too

  1. Cut the eggplant into rectangular cubes about ½ x 2 inches. Toss with a couple tablespoons of flour and a dash of sea salt.
  2. Preheat a large skillet; add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Make sure it’s hot so the eggplant sizzles when added. Sauté for 6-8 minutes until browned and softened.  Remove from skillet and set aside.
  3. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the hot skillet and sauté onions and peppers until they are soft, about 4 minutes.
  4. Add the zucchini, garlic, tomatoes and sprinkle with sea salt and smoked paprika.  Mix and cook another 4 minutes. Add the thyme, oregano and your guess of black pepper.
  5. Keep scraping the edges and bottom of the pan to incorporate the flavors. Add the wine or stock turn down the heat.  Cook a little longer if you want softer veggies.
  6. Add the eggplant, mix all together and check the seasoning. Remove the herb sprigs or leave it to your eaters. Serve topped with fresh basil and cheese.

Leftovers are better with a little more wine or stock added to the pan.  After my warm stewy lunch, I grabbed a handful of blueberries and an apricot for dessert.