Ratatouille, a regional vegetable stew from Provence, is summer incarnate to us. When Beth taught French cooking out of her minute apartment kitchen, the first menu was always ratatouille, a classic salad with vinaigrette, and apple tart. This stew tastes even better the day after it is made, so you might want to plan ahead. Serve hot sprinkled with crumbled goat cheese, at room temperature with lemon wedges and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or cold drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
1 large eggplant (1½ pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium-size yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium-size or large bell peppers (green, red, orange, or yellow), seeded and cut into big squares
10 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped; or one 14.5-ounce can diced plum tomatoes, drained
2 to 3 cloves garlic, to your taste, minced
½ cup olive oil
5 zucchini or summer squash, ends trimmed, and cut into thick rounds
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, to your taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Put the cubed eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let stand 1 hour to drain. Press out the excess moisture with the back of a spatula and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Combine the eggplant, onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, and garlic in the slow cooker. Pour over the olive oil and toss to coat. Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 to 1½ hours, or on LOW for 2 to 3 hours.
3. Stir in the zucchini. Cover and continue to cook on HIGH for another 1½ hours or LOW for 2 to 2½ hours. The last hour, add the basil and season with salt and black pepper. The vegetables will be cooked but will still hold their shape.
Cooker: Medium or large round or oval
Setting and cook time: HIGH for 2½ to 3 hours, or LOW for 4 to 5½ hours; zucchini added at 1½ to 3 hours, and basil, salt, and pepper added during last hour