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Eggplant and Co., Fall's Stars

October 18, 2000|ABBY MANDEL

Ratatouille is the treasure of the fall harvest. This Provencal vegetable stew is remarkably alluring and versatile.

Its recipe is not etched in stone. You can double the zucchini if you have a lot of it, or if eggplant isn't a favorite, or vice versa. In fact, there's no end of possible variations. Just taste it as you go so that the seasoning and tomato content can be tweaked as needed.

Serve it as a side dish with meat, poultry or seafood, then use the leftovers to make other dishes: a ratatouille omelet, say, or polenta or baked potato topped with ratatouille, a ratatouille "caviar" spread, ratatouille topped with bruschetta or ratatouille casserole made with rice, cooked ground beef or lamb.

This Year's Ratatouille

Active Work Time: 40 minutes

Total Preparation Time: 1 hour * Vegetarian

Be sure to keep the onions from browning too much, but caramelizing them is key to great all-around flavor.

1/4 cup olive oil

2 large onions, thinly sliced

7 small zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch dice

2 tablespoons finely minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

1 red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch squares

1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch squares

1 green bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch squares

2 pounds Roma tomatoes, seeded, cut into 3/4-inch chunks

3 bay leaves

2 teaspoons dried thyme

Dried red pepper flakes

1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice

1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/3 cup mixed minced fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, chives, oregano

* Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 10- to 12-inch wide pot over medium heat. When very hot, add onions. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 10 minutes. Then, cook, uncovered, stirring often, until onions turn a light brown but are nowhere near burning, about 8 to 10 minutes more.

* Add zucchini, garlic (reserve 1 teaspoon for finish) and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir well. Cook 5 minutes, shaking pan occasionally to mix. Add peppers, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme and red pepper flakes. Cook, uncovered, shaking pan often to prevent sticking, until just tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

* Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add 1/2 eggplant, sprinkled with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Brown quickly, shaking pan, about 2 minutes. Set aside. Repeat with 1 tablespoon oil and remaining eggplant.

* Add eggplant to cooked vegetables. Bring to simmer; stir well. Add remaining oil, garlic, vinegar, tomato paste and herbs (start with 1 tablespoon vinegar and tomato paste). Stir well; cook 1 more minute. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed with vinegar, tomato paste, salt, herbs. Can be served immediately. (Can also be refrigerated up to 1 week or frozen up to 1 month. To serve, bring to room temperature if chilled. Stir well; taste and adjust seasoning. Serve at room temperature, warm or hot.)

8 to 12 servings. Each of 12 servings: 118 calories; 313 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 17 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 2.52 grams fiber.

Grilled Ratatouille and Cheese Panini

Active Work Time: 10 minutes

Total Preparation Time: 18 to 20 minutes

Leaving the ratatouille chunky makes the sandwich a little messy to eat but worth it. Any other melting cheese, such as Muenster, Jack or Chihuahua, can be substituted for the Fontina. Slow-cooking the panini yields the best results.

1 tablespoon butter, softened

2 slices rustic bread, about 1/3-inch thick

2 ounces Fontina cheese, sliced very thin

1/4 cup packed well-seasoned Ratatouille

* Spread butter on each slice of bread, 1 side only. Cover unbuttered side with 1/2 cheese. Top with Ratatouille, keeping it slightly away from edge of bread. Cover with remaining cheese. Close sandwich, buttered side up.

* Place sandwich in skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, covered, until browned, about 4 minutes. Gently compress sandwich. Turn. Brown other side, covered, about 4 more minutes. Remove from heat. Let rest 10 minutes. Use serrated knife to cut in half. It's best when hot.

1 serving: 544 calories; 1,054 mg sodium; 99 mg cholesterol; 31 grams fat; 46 grams carbohydrates; 22 grams protein; 0.96 gram fiber.

Pasta With Ratatouille and Sausage

Active Work Time: 15 minutes

Total Preparation Time: 25 minutes

This can also be made without sausage.

1 cup uncooked penne


1/4 pound Italian sausage (preferably spicy)

1 cup packed well-seasoned Ratatouille

2/3 cup bottled marinara sauce

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

* Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to directions until al dente.

* Prick sausage with fork and brown in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, turning as necessary, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Cut into thin slices (remove casing if tough).

* Wash out skillet. Add sliced sausage, Ratatouille and marinara sauce. Bring to simmer. When pasta is cooked, reserve 1 cup cooking liquid. Drain pasta; add to skillet along with cheese and some of reserved cooking liquid. Toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning and add more liquid if pasta seems too dry. Serve hot with additional cheese on the side.

1 main-course serving; 2 first-course servings. Each of 2 servings: 526 calories; 1,123 mg sodium; 44 mg cholesterol; 22 grams fat; 51 grams carbohydrates; 22 grams protein; 0.35 gram fiber.


Leaf plate from Saks Fifth Avenue Home Store, Pasadena.

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