Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ratatouille Sauce

The culinary highlight of my gardening season is always right at the end, when the last glut of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash all make their appearance. It's only then, when frost is threatening the tender leaves of those plants we worked so hard to grow, that we find our table, fridge and cold cellar bursting with produce of all colours, shapes and sizes that are begging to be enjoyed right this minute lest they self-destruct overnight. When not a single vegetable more can fit into our household, my mother and I silently and instinctively know what must be done: ratatouille.

Ratatouille at home was, for the majority of my childhood, a running joke my dad, mom and I shared. At the time, Mom was really the only person who liked the stewed vegetable medley, and for reasons that became obvious in the hours after the evening meal the recipe became known as "rataTOOTie". Of course, a lot has changed since then - namely, Mom and I eat a lot more vegetables more frequently, making our digestive tracts more receptive to fibre-rich, vegetable-packed main dishes. We've also taken the classic components of the French recipe and twisted them around a couple different ways, from a cumin-laced Moroccan version to a Disney-esque baked casserole and even a flash-in-the-pan microwaved version. This year, I took the theme of savouring Summer a little further and ventured into canning the sunshine-filled bounty of our garden, turning our favourite chunky ratatouille stew into a pasta-perfect sauce.

Ratatouille Sauce

Creating this pot of flavour was (at the risk of sounding crazy) quite transcendent for me. There was no recipe to use as a base, no required sofrito or roux or complex techniques, only the "voices" of those vegetables and herbs that were, until mere hours before, still growing and thriving outside. They told me when to add them, and with what - from a palmful of fresh thyme leaves and a spoonful of fennel seeds that evoked thoughts of sausage to the magical hint of nutmeg that adds an addictive aura to the sweet-tart tomato base. Stirred into a bowl of rotini, brown rice or wilted greens, it is a rich, fragrant and hearty meal that is perfect after a long day.

Ratatouille Sauce
Makes about 9 1/2 cups, 19 (1/2 cup) servings
1 large zucchini (about 12 oz), peeled and roughly chopped
1 small (about 8 oz) eggplant (ideally Sicilian), peeled and roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
2 1/2 lbs fresh tomatoes*, roughly chopped
1 head roasted garlic (about 1/2 cup cloves)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large sweet onion, grated
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tbsp coarse-ground black pepper
1 tbsp sea salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp dried parsley (or 2 tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  1. Place zucchini, eggplant and peppers into a food processor and pulse to finely dice. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add tomatoes and garlic to the food processor (no need to clean) and puree until completely smooth.** Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns golden - about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the diced vegetables, fennel seeds, pepper and salt and cook until vegetables soften - about 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in the tomatoes, nutmeg, thyme and dried parsley (if using fresh, add at the end).
  6. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, loosely covered, for 3 hours.
  7. Remove from heat, stir in the fresh parsley and lemon juice and adjust seasoning.
  8. If canning, process 20 minutes in a  waterbath. Otherwise, store in the fridge for 1 week or freeze up to 3 months.
*Use a "meaty" type like Roma or San Marzano - I used Opalka Paste heirloom tomatoes which are the best I've found (and easy to grow)

**You can pass the tomatoes through a food mill if you're finicky about seeds but it's not necessary. I didn't find any seeds or skins in mine.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 43.1
Total Fat: 1.7 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 342.1 mg
Total Carbs: 7.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.7 g
Protein: 1.2g