Ratatouille a la Niçoise
After almost 1,000 kilometers, I have finally returned to the city homestead; Prague. A birthday rendezvous on the sun-blanched shores of Croatia, dappled with Germans and Italians and pastel umbrellas. Dusting off my attic apartment kitchen and shelving seaside cheeses, oils, and wines, in addition to a stop in Linz for some delicious Austrian meats, I was unloading little memories one at a time. I left the lapping waves and egg-white Alp peaks refreshed, inspired, and breathlessly tired.
In a shell, Croatia was oozing with fresh vegetable markets and turn-of-the-century market halls offering the daily catch. For someone who cannot eat fish (a flipper-less blog for the time-being), I enjoyed a Christmas-like bustle of the market stalls and all the voices – so many it hummed. The freshly-picked figs. The softball-sized onions. It was electric. The shops sang from 6 a.m. ’till noon daily and sang only a song food lovers could hear.
Did you know that people in Istria do not dine before 9? I didn’t. I didn’t until we found ourselves dining at 7 in a delicious restaurant named “Pompeii” in Pula, fittingly named as it was absolutely barren of human life – well, maybe a squid or two survived somewhere by a pile of kitchen ramekins. As I poured my last glass of wine hoping a crowd of beach-side 30-somethings would somehow flash mob the terrace to inject some life, it finally did. Rejoice! Hark, people! Yet, sadly for me, I had injected enough Malvazija and sun rays to call it a day at 9. (Oh, and an on-the-house honey grappa from our gracious, flirtatious waiter didn’t help much either – poor me, right? ::rolls eyes::). We planned the culinary course of action that night on the way home – we would return to the restaurant and have a Versuvian dinner – complete with truffles, leafy-green salads, local meats from the peninsula, cured salamis, and homemade pastas. And we did. And it went on. And heartily on.
Istrian dinners are a four hour extravaganza, only comparable to Milano where the diner absolutely must possess Olympic stamina. We ate at the “Pompeii” three times that week (even against our travelling policy to only visit 1 place once). Even got half an absolutely shining truffle soup recipe out of that charming coquette waiter of ours (actually, the husband did). But, I miss that guy – Roberto or Marko or something ending with an “o”. Ohh.
It was a joy but now back in Prague – in our 4th floor walk-up with a few kilos more – what to do? I had no capacity at all to eat a heavy meal but in August I knew vegetables were in abundance – specifically eggplant and zucchini. It reminded me of Croatia. I needed a detox, a caloric-forgiving friend in the shape of a casserole. But what? Ratatouille! Voilà! That’s the ticket, I thought. So to mark the return and for you to find a way to use up your garden vegetables (if you are that lucky to have a garden!) whip up a delicious summertime stew, your own Mediterranean ratatouille!
- 2 medium-large eggplants (appx. 2 1/2 cup -- appx. 320 grams, Metric)
- 2 medium-large zucchini (appx. 2 1/2 cup)
- 4 large tomatoes
- 2 yellow onions
- 2 cubanelle, bell, or Italian peppers
- 4 cloves of garlic (or more, depending on preference)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2/3 cup black olives, pitted
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp thyme
- Salt & freshly-cracked pepper
- 2 Tbs butter (separated)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Parsley (chopped, garnish)
- In a large, non-stick skillet heat the olive oil. Add the diced onion and peppers on medium-high until slightly brown (8-10 minutes)
- Add the eggplant and zucchini, salt & pepper for taste (2-3 minutes)
- Add the chopped tomatoes and cloves of garlic, swirl in a pad or tbs of butter, salt & pepper (2-3 minutes)
- Add white wine, bay leaf, thyme, and swirl in a pad or tbp of butter. Reduce to a medium-low and cover (40 minutes)
- After 40 minutes, check the ratatouille and correct seasoning, if needed. The vegetables should not be crunchy or hard. *If you notice that after 40 minutes the water/wine has not evaporated, remove cover and raise heat
- Serving: Remove bay leaf. Serve in individual dishes or in 1 casserole dish. Garish with black olives and chopped parsley. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the entire casserole or dishes before serving.
- Ratatouille can be served chilled or at room temperature as originally intended. You may also serve it warm. Note that the longer the ratatouille rests, for a day ideally, the taste will truly develop and become 1 silky and delectable dish.
- Storing: Ratatouille can last for 4-5 days under refrigeration or can be frozen for up to 3 months.