Ratatouille

Ratatouille

Serves at least 8 as a side dish

3 pounds eggplant (about three)

4 medium to large onions

4 medium to large zucchini (one-and-a-half to two pounds)

4 large cloves of garlic, minced

7 or 8 large tomatoes (preferably yellow tomatoes)

2 large stems of fresh basil (with leaves), plus 1 cup chopped basil leaves

4 stems of fresh thyme

1 four-inch piece of fresh rosemary

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper

Prep the eggplant:  Cut off the stem end and a little of the tail end of each eggplant.  Using a vegetable peeler, remove four strips of peel from each one (I do it like the four compass points).  Cut the eggplants into 1-inch cubes.  Put the eggplant cubes in a large colander over a bowl, and toss with about two tablespoons of kosher salt.  Place a plate smaller than the colander diameter over the eggplant and weight the plate down with a couple of large cans of beans or tomatoes.   Set the eggplant aside for an hour to drain.

Prep the onions:  cut off the top and bottom of each onion, then cut it in half through the poles.  Remove the peel.  Slice five of the eight halves into quarter-inch slices.  Cut the other three in quarter-inch dice.  In a medium-to-large nonstick skillet (that has a lid), heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the sliced onions, along with some salt and pepper.  Toss everything together, and once it’s all sizzling nicely, put the lid on and turn the heat down to low.  Let the onions cook for 20 minutes.  Then take the cover off, stir them up, replace the lid, and let them cook for 10 more minutes on low.  Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium-low, and allow the onions to caramelize, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes longer.

Prep the zucchini:  while the eggplant is draining and the onions are cooking, trim the tops and tails from the zucchini.  Cut them into quarters lengthwise, then crosswise into 1-inch pieces.

Prep the tomatoes:  core seven of the tomatoes and cut them into fairly large cubes.

About 20 minutes before the eggplant’s draining hour is up, arrange two oven racks evenly spaced and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large Dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the diced onion  with some salt and pepper and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté for two more minutes.  Then add the zucchini, along with some more salt and pepper.  Turn the heat up to medium-high, and sauté everything together until the zucchini starts to break down, about 10 minutes or so.  Add the tomatoes, the basil stems, thyme, and rosemary.  Cook for a few minutes, then taste for salt and pepper.  Simmer the mixture for about 20 minutes, until the tomatoes have released their liquid.

After an hour of draining, put the colander with the eggplant cubes in the sink and rinse the eggplant, tossing with your hands to remove the visible salt.  Using a kitchen towel, dry off the eggplant cubes, getting most of the water off.  Put them in a large bowl with some more pepper, and about a quarter-cup of olive oil.  Toss everything together with a big spoon (or your hands), then divide the eggplant between two baking sheets.  Bake them in the 400-degree oven for 15 minutes, then use a spatula to turn the pieces over.  Bake for another 15 minutes and turn the pieces again.  Bake for up to 15 minutes more, until the cubes are nicely browned.

Add the caramelized onion and browned eggplant to the Dutch oven, and cook for another 20 minutes.  The mixture will thicken as the eggplant absorbs some of the liquid.  If it seems too dry, cut up another tomato and add it in to cook for 10 minutes or so.  Stir in the chopped basil.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

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