One of my favorite stalls at the farmers market is run by two young women who always have friendly greetings and interesting offerings. They have bunches of several varieties of basil along with many other herbs. Earlier in the season they had garlic scapes, fava beans, and a wide variety of Asian vegetables. They have bins and bins of tomatoes. But they also have an amazing selection of eggplants: not just the big purple tear drops that my grandmother grew but also white, variegated, Japanese, Italian, long, and green varieties. On my last visit I found eggplants that I had never seen. They were labeled as “Indian”, but their distinctive characteristic was that they were only about the size of a hen’s egg. They looked so cute that I bought them, although I wasn’t sure what I would do with them. You could stuff them with shrimp, Cajun-style, for individual servings. You could make an eggplant tapenade, but that would subvert the whole idea of miniature vegetables. I guess you could steam them and serve them by themselves. Of course, if you think of eggplant you think of ratatouille, so I bought some tomatoes, squash, peppers and onions as well.
I have long thought of ratatouille as a dish that is delicious but labor-intensive. That’s because the first time I ever prepared it years ago I followed Julia Child’s recipe exactly. Each vegetable was cooked separately and slowly to maintain its shape and color before combining with all of the other ingredients and then simmered gently to meld the flavors. In short, Julia’s version is not a dish that you start when you get home from work. The mystique has even been amplified by the wonderful Disney Pixar film, Ratatouille. In the movie, the signature dish prepared by the rat was an elaborate layering of slices of eggplant, squash, tomato and pepper. Beautiful to behold. And if you go to the web these days there are several versions of the recipe that use a similar artful arrangement of vegetables. Again, not something you would whip together before the evening news.
I think of a farm family sitting at their dinner table in Provence. I suspect they enjoy a good ratatouille but I doubt that it is in delicate layers. For that matter, a good shakshuka in Israel or bibimbap (add some beef and rice) in Korea may employ the same or similar ingredients without a lot of fanfare in their preparation. In other words, ratatouille should be easy to make and still be wonderfully delicious. This recipe just tosses the vegetables together, uses mushrooms, and adds a poached egg – definitely not authentic ratatouille, but a good way to use miniature Indian eggplants.
Salted zucchini rounds
Vegetable mix ready for braising
Not Exactly Ratatouille with poached eggs
Not Exactly Ratatouille
- 6 small Indian eggplants
- 2 small zucchini
- Kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 small white onions
- 6 medium mushrooms
- 4 small ripe tomatoes (about 4-5 inches in diameter), halved
- 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and slice into ¼ inch thick rings
- 1 small can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
- ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon ground thyme to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 eggs, poached
- Trim the tops of the eggplants and slice them in half lengthwise. Do not peel. Slice zucchini in ¾ inch rounds. Sprinkle the cut vegetables generously with Kosher salt and place in a large sieve over a bowl for 30 minutes to draw out water, Blot dry with paper towels. Over a high flame, grill the vegetables for a few minutes until lightly browned with grill marks (if desired). Remove from the grill and set aside until ready for assembly.
- Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or lidded oven-proof vessel over medium heat. Add the grilled eggplant and zucchini along with the onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, green pepper, tomato sauce, wine and seasonings.
- Cover the Dutch oven and transfer to the middle of an oven preheated to 300°F. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables are fragrant and tender. If there is too much liquid, remove the cover during the last 15 minutes of cooking to reduce. Adjust the seasoning and serve, topped with 2 poached eggs for each serving.
Disclaimer: This is not an authentic recipe for shakshouka. For one thing, it includes fried chicken. For another, it uses Swiss cheese. Also, I do not plan to take sides in the various controversies as to whether the dish should be viewed as Tunisian or Israeli or whether it should be viewed as a breakfast dish or served at an evening meal. I can only reaffirm that shakshouka is easy to make and delicious.
- 4 chicken thighs
- olive oil
- ½ yellow onion,, chopped
- ¼ cup diced carrots
- ¼ cup diced celery
- 6-8 miniature sweet peppers, sliced into rings
- 4 medium crimini mushrooms sliced
- ½ cup dry vermouth
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- 8 ounces chicken stock
- ¼ teaspoon ground sage
- ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon powdered lemon peel
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 ounces Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
- 4 eggs
- In an oven-proof skillet (cast iron is perfect), brown the chicken thighs in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Drain off the rendered fat and transfer the pan to the middle of an oven preheated to 250°F.
- In a separate skillet, sweat the onions in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Stir in the carrots, celery, and sweet papers, and continue to sauté for 10 minutes until the vegetables are softened. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add the vermouth and continue to simmer until the vermouth has almost completely reduced.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, chicken stock, sage, thyme, cumin, and lemon peel. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Remove the chicken thighs from the oven. Cover with the sauce. Sprinkle with the grated Swiss cheese and return to the oven.
- When the cheese has melted, remove the pan from the oven. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F. Crack the eggs and place them in the spaces between the chicken thighs. Return to the oven and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until the egg whites have set but the yolks are still runny. Watch carefully so that you don’t overcook the eggs.
- When the eggs are done to your liking, remove from the oven and serve immediately.
Snow is on our local mountains, so winter is not far away. The farmers market has all but closed except for apples and a bounty of winter squashes – pumpkins, acorn, and butternut squashes. That means lots of soup, pies, and acorn squash roasted with maple syrup or brown sugar. My favorite squash is spaghetti squash, because it is so versatile, and the strands hold their crispness even with cooking. We usually eat it with just butter, salt, and pepper. Of course, you can substitute it for spaghetti with marinara. I decided to do a riff on a pasta dish that Jacques Pépin demonstrated years ago on his television show. That recipe has become a favorite, especially when we are in a hurry for lunch or a light dinner. This time I just substituted spaghetti squash.
Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan and Poached Eggs
- medium spaghetti squash
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup finely minced parsley
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- poached eggs
- Pierce the squash several times with a metal skewer, going all the way to the center. This is important. Otherwise you will have an explosion and mess in your oven
- Bake the squash in the middle of the oven pre-heated to 350°F (190°C) for 1 hour. Test for doneness by piercing with a sharp fork. The squash should be tender.
- Remove the squash from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes until you can handle it comfortably. With a large, sharp knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise.
- Scrape out the seeds. Then, with a fork, scrap out the flesh into a bowl. The squash will form spaghetti-like strands.
- Stir in the butter, olive oil, Parmesan, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Place individual servings in pasta bowls and top each with two poached eggs.
- You should be able to make four servings.