Here we have a quintessential “Danny’s Table” dish– a tricky yet worthwhile update of something simple; hard to make, yet well worth it.
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“Ratatouille” is an old southern French classic– a humble stew of eggplant, squash, and tomato with herbs and garlic. There is perhaps no finer vehicle in the European culinary canon for displaying the exuberant, sun-splattered ripeness of Old-World eggplant combined with that of New-World squash and tomatoes. When I was a young whippersnapper just cutting my culinary teeth, I used to dutifully add one vegetable after the other to the pot, stirring constantly, until I got what roughly resembled a stew. The result was quite tasty and satisfying, and yet it was also, I admit, an indistinct mash of its components. It was Chef Cathy who taught me to treat the individual ingredients as stand-alone parts of a greater whole. Since we had a fully-equipped professional kitchen, we could separately fry the eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash to exterior crispness and then combine them for a final simmer, during which they largely maintained their discrete identities. However, one cannot easily do that in a civilian kitchen. But the good news is that there is a whole different way to treat this dish– not as a stew, but rather as a casserole. As such, it makes a great stand-alone vegan entree or, alternatively, shines as a perfect foil for entrees such as grilled lamb chops. You can even enjoy it for a cold lunch in the increasingly hot late August afternoons.
A further note– if you are a REALLY busy person and struggle to simply feed yourself at hard-won intervals in your way-too-stressful day, then this dish isn’t necessarily for you. However, if you are semi- or fully retired and regard your afternoon as “wine-time,” making this dish can be a positively meditative experience that makes for a delightful two hours or so in your kitchen, sipping your favorite wine and listening to your favorite music as you stresslessly and painstakingly assemble this dish. The added advantage is that, if you do everything exactly as described, this dish is utterly foolproof. Furthermore, if you are planning a dinner party on Friday, you can make this on Thursday or even Wednesday without any negative consequences.
1 Pint Pure Olive Oil (NOT “Extra Virgin”... “Pure” is better for cooking)
1 Yellow Squash
2 Yellow Onions, Browned
1 TBSP Herbs de Provence mix
1 TBSP Dried thyme
1 Clove Garlic
½ Pint Pitted Kalamata Olives
First, the “Paint”--
In a small food processor, blend the garlic with half of the oil. Combine with the rest of the oil and the herbs.
And next, the Olive-Onion Spread--
Briefly process the olives with the onions. Keep it chunky, i.e., don’t liquify it.
Next, the Veggies–
Set oven to low broil. Slice the zucchini diagonally into approximately ½” pieces. Distribute on a half-sheetpan covered with parchment paper. Using a pastry brush, paint each with the seasoned oil and then broil until lightly browned. Flip the slices and repeat. Set zucchini slices aside and repeat with yellow squash and eggplant. (The eggplant will soak up the oil like a sponge, so be generous.)
Slice the tomatoes and start layering your casserole in a Dutch oven or rectangular casserole dish. I recommend the order as zucchini-tomato-yellow squash-eggplant, which alternates the firm veggies with the mushy ones. Add a small dab of the Olive-Onion Spread to each tomato so that the juice will distribute the flavors as the tomatoes cook. Bake at 350º until the tomatoes have pretty much dissolved, which should take about an hour depending on your pan. Cook longer as needed. When done, the olive-onion spread will have provided all the salt you need.