18:30 Friday January 7, 2005.
It’s been dark for nearly two hours already. S and I are just back from the Laundromat (oh, for a washer and dryer of one’s own!) and we’re getting hungry. I open the fridge and find: One good-sized eggplant with a dent in the side. Four medium zucchini. A red pepper. Borderline rotten parsley. A paper towel-wrapped bundle of thyme. In the pantry are a couple of fast-softening onions and some garlic. How lucky for me that these are most of the key ingredients in that luscious dish, ratatouille. The proportions are slightly off—it’s heavy on the zucchini—but I figure it’ll work.
I pull out Martha Rose Shulman’s Ready When You Are, which has two different recipes for the dish—one slow-cooked, one quick. Considering the hour, tonight will be the quick version. A few adjustments are called for—I don’t have all the ingredients; it calls for too much oil to suit my current Weight Watching life; I want to add a little spicy kick to it—but just over an hour later S and I are feasting on a lovely medley of perfectly-cooked vegetables in all their thick, flavorful juices, ladled over nutty brown rice. Eggplant melted to a smooth, rich paste. Zucchini still with a bit of bite. Red peppers yielding sweetly to the tooth. To add a little crunch and a touch of protein, I sprinkle Trader Joe’s Pignolia, Pepita, and Almond Such and Such on each dish before serving.
(If you’re on WW’s Core program: each serving is just 2 points, and it’s points-free if you leave out the nuts.)
A Quick Ratatouille-ish Stew
Inspired by Martha Rose Shulman’s Ready When You Are
Olive oil cooking spray
1 medium-large eggplant, cut into ½” cubes
1 t. olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced thin
4 oz low-sodium chicken broth
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into pieces about ¾” wide x 1 ½” long
½-1 t. Peperoncino Piccante Paste, or some other hot pepper sauce, or hot pepper flakes, to taste
4 to 6 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 medium zucchini, sliced about ½” thick (if very thick, cut in half lengthwise first)
Freshly ground black pepper
½-¾ package Pomi brand chopped tomatoes [or most of a large can of peeled Italian plum tomatoes, chopped]
1 bay leaf
2 t. fresh thyme leaves or 1 t. dried thyme
½ t. dried oregano
2 to 4 T. slivered fresh basil, to taste [I substituted parsley since I didn’t have any basil]
¼ cup toasted pine nuts, slivered almonds, and/or pumpkin seeds
Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Spray a large, heavy flameproof casserole with the cooking spray, and add the eggplant. Spray the eggplant, add salt to taste, and toss. Place in the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the eggplant is lightly browned and fragrant. Remove from the oven.
When the eggplant is nearly done roasting, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. If onions begin to brown, add a splash of chicken broth. Stir in the peppers and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the peppers have softened and smell fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in half the garlic and cook for another minute, then season with salt and pepper and transfer to the casserole with the eggplant.
Add a splash of chicken broth to the skillet and put in the zucchini, more salt, and some freshly ground pepper. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the squash is tender and still bright, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining garlic, stir together briefly, until fragrant, and transfer to the casserole.
Add the tomatoes to the casserole along with the bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and more salt and pepper. Stir everything together and place the casserole over medium-low heat. When the vegetables begin to sizzle, cover the casserole and cook, stirring often, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the mixture is juicy and fragrant, and the vegetables tender but still bright. Add a splash of chicken broth at any point if vegetables look like they’re sticking. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Serve over brown rice or couscous, warm or cold, preferably the next day. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the basil just before serving. Top each serving with a sprinkling of toasted nuts.