Last Sunday we welcomed a new edition to the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market: Sweetwater Farm. Sweetwater offers a popular CSA, Good Food Easy, and has a long history of working in neighborhood farmers markets, having anchored the former Southtowne Shoppes farmers market. Last week they had a wide variety of produce including colorful peppers and eggplants, which inspired me to make a ratatouille.
Ratatouille used to have a bad rap as mushy, watery stewed vegetables, but then got an image makeover with Pixar's animated rendition of Thomas Keller's recipe. I wanted to create a version that would capture the sweetness of these summer vegetables at their peek, so I roasted the eggplant, and separately, the peppers with some massive scallions from Songbird Farm that seemed like the moral equivalent of leeks.
To make a tomato sauce, I roasted a pint of Songbird Farm's cherry tomatoes with garlic and a selection of fresh herbs that go into traditional herbs de Provence--rosemary, marjoram, and fennel fronds. Because the cherry tomatoes cooked down so much, I fried a couple of sliced regular tomatoes as well and deglazed the pan with a splash of white vermouth. These all got pureed together into a flavorful sauce.
Then I assembled everything like a lasagna, but in a spring form pan, using thin sliced baby zucchini from SLO Farm as the moral equivalent of pasta sheets, and baked it until the sauce on top had started to brown.
The final dish was a thin disc, an amazing transformation of a huge pile of vegetables. But what it lacked in bulk, it made up in flavor, with all the notes of the vegetables intensified by the roasting and baking into a dense tart that was delicious served in slices, along with goat cheese and fresh bread.
3 small eggplants (or 1 large one)
2 sweet bell peppers
1 anaheim pepper
1 leek or 3 extra large scallions
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 regular tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh marjoram
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 fresh fennel fronds
~20 basil leaves
1/4 cup white vermouth
6 small zucchini
fresh ground pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Cut the eggplant into 3/4 inch cubes and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper in a baking dish large enough so that the cubes are spread out in a single layer. Roast, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes until the cubes are browned and cooked through.
3. Cut the peppers into 1 inch pieces and the white part of the leek or scallions into 1/2 inch discs. Toss in olive oil and salt and pepper and roast, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes until they start to brown and release their juices.
4. In an ovenproof skillet, toss the cherry tomatoes and peeled garlic cloves with olive oil, salt, and pepper, fresh rosemary and marjoram leaves, and fennel fronds. Roast for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes have collapsed and some of their juices have cooked down. Transfer the roasted tomatoes, garlic and herbs to a food processor. Adjust the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees.
5. Return the tomato skillet to the stovetop and heat with a little more olive oil. Slice the large tomatoes and cook in the pan about 3 minutes per side. Add the white vermouth and let the tomatoes stew as the liquid reduces by about half, making sure to scrape off any caramelized juices from the roasted cherry tomatoes. Add the contents of the pan to the food processor and blend into a smooth tomato sauce. Adjust seasoning.
6. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/4 inch strips. Oil the bottom and sides of a 10 inch spring form pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with zucchini strips, and then with a layer of basil leaves. Layer on the roasted eggplant, followed by another layer of zucchini strips, then the roasted peppers and leeks, then a final layer of zucchini strips. Pour the tomato sauce on top and spread to cover the top.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes until the tomato sauce is bubbling and has started to brown a bit. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before gently removing the side of the spring form pan. Serve slices warm or at room temperature.