Summer Vegetable Stew – Not (Quite) Ratatouille

To paraphrase Sara Bareilles, I’m not gonna write you a ratatouille recipe. (I promise that will be the last Sara Bareilles reference – ever – on this blog.) I’ve done it before, and with farmers markets overflowing with more zucchini and eggplant than a blogger knows what to do with, you can be sure you’ll be seeing a big crop of ratatouille posts on your favorite food blogs in the next week or so. I figure once Disney takes on a topic, there’s really nothing more I can add.

summer vegetable stew in a yellow pot

Not that the attention ratatouille garners is undeserved; packed with vegetables at the height of summer ripeness, it is one of the best testaments available to the joy of eating seasonally. In fact there may be no better way to enjoy zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, onions and tomatoes all at the same time. But the real lesson of ratatouille lies not in the adherence to those core ingredients but in the happy combination of peak season produce, with nothing that’s not in season. Just about any combination will do, as long as the vegetables are fresh and ripe.

Luckily, this is the time of summer when the overabundance in farmers markets helps keep my kitchen stocked with nothing but fresh, ripe vegetables. The motivation for this summer stew was two large eggplants, but as I stooped down to remove these from the crisper drawer I kept seeing additional prospects for a seasonal stew: half a head of cabbage, a green pepper, five small leeks, tomatoes (the latter not, of course, stored in the refrigerator).

The great thing about a stew is you can be pretty lax about procedure since it’s all getting cooked together anyway. I cubed and salted my eggplant, since conventional wisdom suggests doing so will remove some kind of bitterness. I then sauteed sliced leeks and green bell pepper in a large amount of olive oil until the leeks were starting to brown deeply. I added the eggplant cubes and let them brown a bit too. Next went in the half head of cabbage, thinly sliced, a large sprig of thyme, and about ten roma tomatoes that I had pureed (and salted and sugared to make up for really lackluster flavor – you don’t win ’em all at the farmers market). I added water to just about cover everything and let the pot stew away for a half an hour while I cooked some white rice. Right before serving the dish, I sprinkled it with fragrant basil shreds.

I was happy with the way this turned out, but I hope I don’t have you headed to the store in search of two eggplants, a half head of cabbage, a green pepper, five leeks and ten roma tomatoes because the point of all this was that if the ingredients for your summertime stew are fresh and in season, you won’t go wrong – it’s the spirit, not the letter, 0f a ratatouille recipe.


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3 comments on “Summer Vegetable Stew – Not (Quite) Ratatouille”

  1. A Ann 11 August, 2011 at 7:33 am

    Tom, I haven’t been doing the salting thing with my eggplants recently, and haven’t noticed any bitterness. I wonder if it’s because the eggplants are pretty fresh…? Or maybe it’s my perception of bitterness – I do like hoppy beer! But no one else has complained when I just, say, slice an eggplant, brush it with olive oil, and grill the slices. Maybe I should try bitter melon! (which post was hilarious, by the way).

  2. Tom 11 August, 2011 at 7:47 am

    I think the salting/bitterness claim for eggplant really needs some examination, although another advantage of salting is eliminating excess moisture. But you raise a very good point in that the best way to make an eggplant delicious is the grill. Ah, to have a grill.

    For some reason I did not think about you being a fan of hoppy beers, Aunt Ann. Did you try a Surly Furious when you were out here last time? If not you will have to when you are out here next.

  3. Nancy 17 August, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    I haven’t salted eggplant for years. Earlier varieties required the salting. “Newer” (I said it’s been years) varieties are not bitter. You can happily skip the salt on this, and probably do your blood pressure a favor.