To me a ratatouille symbolizes the beauty of French cuisine: its dazzling simplicity. While the thought of cooking French food can sometimes appear intimidating because of its sheer reputation as one of the world's haute cuisines, a good deal of it is really neither complicated nor difficult nor fancy. Instead, like a ratatouille, it's just great food made with the barest minimum of accoutrements, which allows the beauty of the few ingredients used to sparkle through.
A ratatouille uses summer's classic vegetables: eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers and tomatoes. A dash of salt, some pepper, a few savory herbs-- again gifts of the summer-- and you have a dish that can satisfy any appetite.
Ratatouille is great with pasta or some crusty French bread, but this time I served it with some Rosemary Polenta spiked with Miso. I like using miso for two reasons: one, of course, because it so good for you and filled with great healthful enzymes that help digest food, among other goodies. But miso also makes a great salt and cheese substitute, adding delicious flavor to any dish from a pesto to a soup and, in this case, polenta. There are different varieties of miso available, but I used white miso, or shiro miso, which is a rather mild-tasting one and great for beginners.
You could always leave it out if you don't have some on hand and you'd still have a super-delicious polenta to go with your ratatouille.
1 large onion, cut into a ½-inch dice
2 medium eggplants or 4-5 small ones (try to use the delicate variety of eggplant with tiny seeds rather than the big ones here), cut into a ½-inch dice
2 medium green bell peppers (capsicums-- can substitute with red or yellow or orange bell peppers), cut into a ½-inch dice
2 small zucchini or 1 medium, cut into a ½-inch dice
3 tomatoes, cut into a ½-inch dice (You get the picture? You want all your veggies to be roughly the same size for a great presentation)
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp fresh sage, minced (you can also use other savory herbs here like thyme or oregano)
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped, for garnish
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil plus some more for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions, stir for a minute, then add the eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes and green peppers.
Mix well to coat with the oil. Then add the garlic and herbs and mix again. Add some salt and pepper.
Cover the pot and allow the ratatouille to cook about 30 minutes or until the veggies are buttery-soft. Garnish with the basil and add more pepper if needed.
When serving, pour a dash of extra-virgin olive oil over the top.
Rosemary Polenta Spiked with Miso
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal mixed with 1 cup water
3 cups of water
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 medium onion, minced
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp shiro miso (white miso), optional
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the rosemary and some black pepper. Stir well. Add the 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.
Now add the cornmeal mixed in water, using a whisk to stir it in rapidly so that you don't get any lumps.
Continue to cook another 25 minutes, stirring with a wooden ladle, until the polenta starts to pull from the sides of the pan. Turn off the heat.
Add the miso (which is salty) and check if you need any salt. If yes, add some and stir it in quickly before the polenta starts to set.
I like to wait until the polenta is quite firm, about 10-15 minutes, before I serve it.
I don't believe in the concept of hell, but if I did I would think of it as filled with people who were cruel to animals.--Gary Larson