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Ratatouille the epitome of seasonal cooking

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch
Ratatouille is a delicious melange of fresh vegetables that is perfect for summer. Julie Falsetti photo

In the movie “Ratatouille,” it was a simple peasant dish that won over the snooty food critic, Anton Ego. One bite, and he was transported to his mother’s countryside kitchen in Provence.

A melange of late-summer vegetables, ratatouille is the epitome of seasonal cooking.

To paraphrase Chef Gusteau, “Anyone can cook ratatouille.”

The secret is using the freshest local vegetables. As residents of York County, we don’t have to look far.

With the renewed interest in gardening, acquiring some zucchini should be no problem. I like a mix of green and yellow summer squash for the visual appeal. Local peppers, tomatoes and eggplants are in abundance in the market now at prices that won’t break the bank.

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When choosing eggplants, look for smaller ones with a firm texture. If you can find the long, thin Japanese type, that’s even better. The dish is accented with the flavors of fresh summer herbs. I used basil and parsley, but feel free to use what you have on hand.

Although ratatouille is essentially a vegetable stew, throwing everything into a pot and cooking it for hours will result in a mushy dish without much mouth appeal. Cooking each vegetable separately is more time-consuming but will produce a dish where the integrity and taste of each vegetable is retained.

As with most stews, the flavor improves with time. Ratatouille can be frozen, so you can enjoy a taste of summer during the long winter doldrums.

Ratatouille

1 medium eggplant, sliced in ¼-inch rounds

1 zucchini, sliced in ¼-inch rounds

1 yellow squash, sliced in ¼-inch rounds

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, sliced in ½-inch strips

1 green bell pepper, sliced in ½-inch strips

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound roma tomatoes, peeled

a few sprigs of basil and parsley, chopped

olive oil for frying

salt and pepper

Bring a small pot of water to boil, and drop in the tomatoes. Cook for 45 seconds, and then remove with a slotted spoon. Peel and slice into strips. Set aside.

Over a medium-high flame, heat a large skillet with bottom covered with olive oil. Sauté the eggplant until lightly browned. Remove and set aside on a platter. Add the zucchini and yellow squash, and sauté until tender and lightly browned. Remove and add them to the platter with the eggplant. Add the onions and peppers, and sauté until tender. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more. Salt and pepper each layer as you cook it.

Add the tomato slices, and cook over medium heat until the juices have been reduced. Remove half of the tomato-pepper mixture. Arrange the zucchini and eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle with the herbs. Add the remaining pepper-tomato mixture.

Cover and cook over a low flame until the flavors have melded, about 10 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.