The Garlic Farm presents...
Eggplant tips, recipes & recipe links
Introduction to three methods for preparing ratatouille:
Eggplant recipe link collections:
Download a copy of the Garlic Farm's Eggplant Methods & Ideas sheet.
Ratatouille: versatile summer veggie stew
by Nancy E. Dunn, Garlic Farm newsletter editor
posted July 23, 2011
Looking at the peak of the summer produce at the Garlic Farm stand might make you think of ratatouille, the classic summer vegetable medley from the Provence region of southern France.
Thousands of variations of this dish exist, as far as I can tell, and it's even more versatile than the variation proliferation alone would suggest: You can serve it hot, room temperature, or cold. It works as a side dish, as a vegetarian main dish, as a condiment (on a hearty sandwich, for example), as a filling in omelettes and crêpes, as a topping or holding centerstage in salads, as a stuffing for another vegetable, as a sauce over rice, polenta, or pasta. All that versatility makes it a great dish to prepare in advance of a summer picnic, party, or camping trip. And you can freeze it for up to three months for a taste of summer during the short days of December.
This vegetarian dish, laced with olive oil and often fragrant with fresh herbs, features the most popular midsummer veggies we grow at the Garlic Farm:
- Sweet peppers
The recipes themselves vary widely according to cooking method (stovetop in a skillet or oven roasting), number of steps (pregrilling or roasting the eggplant, separate sautéeing of veggies), the variety of herbs and other seasonings suggested, and amount of olive oil used.
Originating, according to most sources, in an olive producing region in the south of France, ratatouille naturally features olive oil. The oil is a signature of the dish, and also one of its trickiest ingredients to manage. One of the biggest pitfalls in preparing spongelike eggplant is using too much oil, so much that the dish ends up glistening delectably but later produces indigestion--which turns a healthy veggie dish great for everyday into a high-fat occasional treat.
Salting eggplant as a prep step
Because the eggplant in ratatouille can absorb so much oil, some experts recommend the sweating procedure (salt the eggplant slabs or chunks liberally, set them aside in a colander to drain for 30 to 45 minutes, rinse off the salt, and squeeze) to reduce the vegetable's absorbency. That may work, and many recipes call for that preliminary step, but not all experts recommend this step in preparing ratatouille. There's another way to reduce the amount of fat any food soaks up during cooking in a fat: reduce the amount of time the ingredient is in contact with the oil. So precooking the eggplant by grilling or roasting and then cooking it over the highest heat your oil allows (without smoking) both reduce the amount of oil the eggplant takes up.
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Free-range ratatouille, Garlic Farm, August 2010
photo by Nancy E. Dunn
Three cookbook recipes, three different methods
I surveyed a couple dozen cookbooks and dozens of online ratatouille recipes to compare methods, and to look for a consistent mixture of vegetables to confirm the traditional medley.
Here I've pulled out three sample recipes that give differernt approaches to ratatouille to try out during the season. By coincidence, none of the three recommends salting & sweating the eggplant before cooking. (Also check out the online options in the recipe links below.)
Find your favorite method and then freeze some meals' worth at the end of the summer.
Françoise Rigord's method: cook veggies independently, reduce the broth to a glaze
Patricia Wells, who reported from France for Gourmet magazine for many years, documents in her book Bistro Cooking (Workman Publishing, 1989) the ratatouille recipe of Françoise Rigord, a winemaker near Aix-en-Provence. Rigord prepares the dish as part of her vineyard's annual grape harvest feast. The recipe calls for about a pound each of tomatoes, onions, zucchini, eggplant, sweet peppers (red bells recommended) for 12 to 16 servings. Plus 6 tablespoons oil, a bouquet garni (parsley stems, peppercorns, thyme, fennel seed, and a bay leaf tied up in cheesecloth), and a little salt added at the end of cooking. No garlic in this mix, but that's probably because another dish on Rigord's menu, aïoli, comes with a very garlicky mayonnaise.
Rigord cooks her veggies in three groups: the peppers added to the golden sautéed onions and bouquet garni (2 tbsp of oil) for about 30 minutes and then joined by the fresh tomatoes wedges for just 15 minutes more; the pound of eggplant (no sweating) in another 2 tbps. of oil for about 20 minutes or until soft; and the pound of zucchini in another 2 tbsp. of oil for about 20 minutes. Rigord recommends medium-low heat. To intensify the flavors and add a lovely glaze to the finished dish, Rigord drains all of the cooked veggies in a colander over a pot to collect the cooking liquids, handling the veggies gently to avoid turning them to mush. She then reduces the collected juices over high heat till they're syrupy and pours them over the vegetables. She then allows everything to marry in the fridge for 24 hours. To serve, she pulls the mixture out about 15 minutes ahead of time, squeezes the juice of a lemon all over it, and sprinkles on a handful of minced parsley. If you browse lots of ratarouille recipes, you'll find Rigord's suggestion to cook the veggies separately to preserve their identities and her method of reducing the broth to concentrate the flavors echoed in other contemporary ratatouille recipes.
Deb Hudgin's ratatouille: broil 1-inch eggplant planks first, then cut it into chunks & add to the sautéed mixture
In Great Good Food (Crown/Turtle Bay Books, 1993), Julee Rosso of Silver Palate fame offers her friend Deb Hudgin's low-fat ratatouille recipe. Hudgin's recommends slicing the eggplant lengthwise into one-inch planks, brushing them lightly with olive oil, and broiling them on a wire rack for 10 to 12 minutes, turning once. Afterward, cut the grilled eggplant into one-inch cubes and add it to the other veggies you've sautéed in a Dutch oven, and then simmer gently, partially covered, for about an hour before adding the tomato chunks and seasonings and simmering for another 20 minutes to finish the dish. She also suggests sprinking minced parsley over the finished ratatouille. Cooked this way, you can make a ratatouille with a fraction of the oil called for in many traditional recipes.
The book includes three other eggplant recipes, including a soup, a savory ratatouille tart, and a meatloaf wrapped in slabs of eggplant. If anyone tries that one, I want to hear how it turns out: email@example.com
This cookbook, by the way, exists in the Granby Public Library collection, at the Cossit branch at the corner of Route 189 & East Street (open Tuesday & Thursday 10 am to noon and 3 to 8 pm and again on Saturday afternoons from noon to 5 pm). The Cossitt Library feels more like a small town than practically any other place in Granby. Except maybe the Granby Pharmacy. And the Garlic Farm, of course. And besides, the paint on the Cossitt exterior makes an almost exact match to color of the Garlic Farm barn.
Moosewood's ratatouille: oven roast the chunks of veggies on baking sheets for about an hour at 450 degrees F.
The Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York, developed a national reputation decades ago with the publication of a series of related cookbooks by Mollie Katzen, starting with Moosewood Cooking, originally published in 1977, which became an icon for hippie vegetarians and other veggie-centric foodies. Today's vegetarians and other veggie fans may want to try out some recipes from the Moosewood Collective's Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers (Clarkson Potter, 2005).
Their ratatouille contribution suggests cutting all of the veggies into 1-inch chunks, a total of 12 to 14 cups, tossed with half a dozen chopped garlic cloves and 1/3 cup olive oil. Recommended veggie balance: a zucchini; 3 onions; 1 eggplant, which they usually peel; a couple bell peppers of any color; 6 chopped garlic cloves. Toss the vegetables with 1/3 cup of olive oil and distribute them on baking sheets; bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees F., stir, give it another 20 minutes, stir again, give the mix another 5 to 15 minutes or "until fork tender yet still juicy." Then remve from the oven and prepare to serve by stirring in a cup of chopped basil leaves and topping with grated parmesan or other sharp Italian grating cheese.
Granby residents can find this latter day Moosewood cookbook in the Cossitt Library collection, too.
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Eggplant recipe links
compiled & annotated by Nancy E. Dunn, Garlic Farm newsletter editor
posted July 23, 2011
Literally thousands of eggplant recipes exist on the web, and a dedicated recipe hound can spend a whole day browsing them to find the perfectly balanced ratatouille recipe for this weekend's get-together. Someone truly determined could even while away an entire hot summer afternoon in an air-conditioned library looking at nothing but eggplant-prep video clips.
Here are the best compendia of eggplant recipes, preparation advice, and guides that we've found on the web so far this summer.
If you find any excellent eggplant references on the web that we've missed, please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org to suggest adding your favorites to this list.
Fine Cooking magazine's online edition includes articles on prep and theory, instructional video clips, and thousands of recipes, including lots of resources for eggplant fans. It's relaibly edited, making it a great place for cooks looking to expand their repertoire in hopes of converting family members to eggplant tolerance, or even appreciation.
A search produced nearly five dozen eggplant recipes, each one with a photo, a reviewers' rating, and an array of somewhat cryptic little icons that can help you quickly locate a suitable recipe once you understand their meaning.
You might want to start with the eggplant overview if you need background about eggplant; use the slider under the recipe snapshots to select among a wide range of the magazine's eggplant recipes. This article, although reliable in other ways, contradicts other sources I've consulted about which skinny eggplant is called Japanese eggplant & which is Chinese. I'll try to run down the authoritative answer before the end of the summer.
For a detailed summary of basic methods for cooking eggplant (prep, grilling, over roasting, frying), try Alya Algar's How to Cook Eggplant to Tender, Silky Perfection This author recommends salting older (meaning not freshly picked) globe eggplants and partially peeling them. She agrees that Asian eggplant needs neither peeling nor salting.
Fine Cooking's online ratatouille recipes
You can skip directly to two recipes for different methods of preparing ratatouille: oven roasting or skillet sautéeing.
Food & Wine online
This online companion to the monthly food magazine yielded nearly 200 eggplant recipes when I searched by keyword on the site. The serarch results look a tad repetitive, however, so you may not be able to try a new recipe a day for 188 days, in case you're thinking of blogging your way to an eggplant movie deal.
The photo/recipe slideshow Best Eggplant Recipes offers selected recipes, each illustrated with a photo, 18 at last count. Number 4 out of the18 is grilled Asian eggplant with ginger sauce that sounds just like a dishI've enjoyed so often in San Francisco's Chinatown. Recipes in this set also include a curry, and preparations from Japanese, Sardinian, Sicilian, Iraqi, and other Middle Eastern traditions.
Martha Stewart Living online
The food section of this web site delivers more than 200 recipes, video clips, and guides that feature eggplant. Recipes include an eggplant rolatini that's similar to one I grew to love from the vintage Vegetarian Epicure cookbook.
The guides include some video tutorials, including a very tempting pair from 2006 led by Martha and celebrated NY sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa on tempura. In the first of the pair of video clips, the chef says the secret to good tenpura is to have all the ingredients of the batter and the bowl at the same temperature (remove cold ingredients from fridge half hour beforehand), plus obtaining the low-gluten Japanese flour from an Asian market. Mix the batter lightly, he says--lumps are OK--because this is such a soft flour. This two-part tutorial promises to answer all my long-standing questions about homemade tempura; too bad it kept hanging when I tried to watch it. The second clip of the pair explains how to do the frying. If, like me, you want to try your hand at eggplant tempura, give it a try because you may have better luck streaming it now that the MSL site has been updated.
Another video tutorial that did work for me demonstrates how to make riccotta-stuffed eggplant rolls (rolatini) that take only 30 to 40 minutes to make, including a grilling step and a baking step.
Epicurious returned more than 350 recipe results when I searched on eggplant. This site offers readers' ratings for each recipe, which come from the archives of cooking magazines published by Condé Nast (Bon Appetit and the late, lamented Gourmet) as well as a growing collection of articles and recipes commissioned specifically for the web site. Icons alongside the recipes also tip you off to speedy preparations, wine pairings, and menu suggestions.
The search results come back in two categories that you select by tab at the top of the search results: recipes on one tab and a few dozen articles and guides on a separate tab. In the articles and guides you'll find a few video tutorials, such as those on making baba ghanouj and moussaka.
The seasonal cooking guide for eggplant offers basic prep info (salting, etc.) and selected recipes from different ethnic traditions: Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern & African, and Asian. The author of this guide favors partial peeling of the globe eggplants or any older eggplant and salting of older (not fresh off the plant) eggplants.
At the beginning of the Garlic Farm eggplant season, when the narrow Asian eggplants are the only ones available, see Epicurious.com's recipes for Japanese eggplant for 44 (at last count) ways to use those sweeter, quicker-to-cook eggplant forms.
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PHOTO: Justin Tosti unloads eggplants fresh from harvest on a Saturday morning, summer 2010
photo by Nancy E. Dunn
Updated 22 September 2013