ratatouille with polenta and rosemary

October 24, 2011

Ratatouille is a traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish, originating in Nice. Polenta is known to have been eaten by the Roman legions; known as pulmentum they would eat it in either a porridge or in a hard cake like form. A happy Mediterranean marriage, this recipe brings the two together in a meal that harkens to the good-ole-days when vegetables were fresh, food was simple, and everyone enjoyed the comforts and pleasure of the table with good friends and the gifts of the gods.

Ratatouille

4 large tomatoes

8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

20 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 1/4 teaspoons sea salt

2 large onions, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise

3 red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 medium zucchini, cut into chunks

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cut an X in bottom of each tomato with a sharp paring knife and blanch together in a 4-quart pot of boiling water 1 minute. Transfer tomatoes with a slotted spoon to a cutting board and, when cool enough to handle, peel off skin, beginning from scored end, with paring knife.

Coarsely chop tomatoes and transfer to a 5-quart heavy pot with garlic, parsley, basil, and 1/3 cup oil. Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.

While sauce is simmering, toss eggplant with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large colander and let stand in sink 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook onions in 3 tablespoons oil with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer onions with a slotted spoon to a large bowl, then add 3 tablespoons oil to skillet and cook bell peppers with 1/4 teaspoon salt over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer peppers with slotted spoon to bowl with onions. Add 3 tablespoons oil to skillet and cook zucchini with 1/4 teaspoon salt over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer zucchini with slotted spoon to bowl with other vegetables.

While zucchini are cooking, pat eggplant dry with paper towels. Add remaining oil (about 1/4 cup) to skillet and cook eggplant over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add vegetables, remaining teaspoon salt, and black pepper to tomato sauce and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour. Cool, uncovered, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Polenta

6 cups water

1 tsp sea salt

2 cups organic corn grits

In a large, deep pan over high heat bring water and sea salt to boil, gradually stir in the polenta. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently to prevent sticking until the mixture is very thick (about 30 minutes). Stir in more salt if needed. Oil a square medium-sized pan or loaf pan, spoon in polenta, and let set for 10 minutes. Invert onto a flat plate. The polenta will unmold and hold its shape.

Cut polenta into thick slices and serve hot, smothered in ratatouille and chopped rosemary.

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