Ratatouille
by Charlie Burke

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Throughout the Mediterranean region the vegetables of summer are combined,
cooked with herbs and spices, and served with meals or as an appetizer.
Eggplants and tomatoes are almost always involved, with onions, garlic,
peppers and squash frequently included.

In southern Italy, capers, olives and anchovies combine with tomatoes and
eggplants to create caponata, an intense concentration of flavors usually
served as a component of antipasto. In Spain, lemon and artichokes may be
included, while pine nuts and raisins might find their way into similar dishes
in Morocco or Egypt. They are all variations on the same theme: using
indigenous ingredients to highlight the wonderful flavor of summer
vegetables at their peak. In southern France, this means perfect eggplants and
intensely flavored tomatoes cooked with onion, zucchini and peppers; local
herbs and garlic and the best available olive oil complete the dish.

Because this is a recipe column, we must provide a “recipe,” but ratatouille is
actually an invitation to celebrate the brief burst of flavor given us by the
bounty of New England’s summer harvest. If you love eggplant, use more.
Joanne and I look forward to the first garlic we harvest so we usually add it
with a heavy hand, and if your tomatoes are abundant and delicious, you
really can’t add too many. Feel free to make this dish your own; it is an
invitation to experiment and find your own favorite recipe. I do suggest that
you use red, yellow or orange peppers. Green peppers are not ripe, and their
sharp flavor disrupts the blending of the other ingredients.

Preparation: (the number of servings is not specified; consider this a ratio of
ingredients to be adjusted according to your preference and the number of
your guests)

3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 medium eggplants cut into 1” cubes
3 zucchini, in 2” slices (yellow summer squash may be substituted)
2 large yellow onions, halved and sliced
2 peppers, cored and in ½ inch slices
4 – 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 – 2 teaspoon fresh marjoram or Greek oregano, finely chopped (if using
oregano, use lesser amount or to taste)
2 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
3 tablespoon fresh basil torn or coarsely chopped
Sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onions and
garlic. Sauté until onions and garlic are soft; add all ingredients except salt,
pepper, parsley and lemon juice. Cook, stirring, until eggplant is tender.
There will be a fair amount of watery juice in the pan; use a slotted spoon to
remove the vegetables, increase heat to high and boil juices until reduced and
slightly thickened. Return vegetables to the pan; add salt, pepper and  lemon
juice to taste. Mix in parsley and basil and add additional olive oil if needed.

Although ratatouille can be served hot, we prefer it cold or at room
temperature with fish, chicken or lamb. This summer, shop your local farmers’
market or farm stand for the best local produce and treat your family and
guests to this great Mediterranean tradition!

About the author:
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of
the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (
www.nhfma.org) and helps
run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton,
NH.  Write to Charlie at
crjoburke@earthlink.net
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