September 30, 2013

Ratatouille on the Stovetop

Plus, a trick for making polenta without burning your arms!

It's October tomorrow and we have a possible freeze coming later this week.  That's about right for Colorado, although our actual First Frost Dates seem to be inching later and later into the fall.  Not so long ago, and possible in the future, first snows would come about this time of year - and already have in the higher elevations.

So, it's final harvesting time.  I will not have much in the way of "putting up" this year, as my tomato harvest was rather small and it was a low-production year for the rest of my garden, too.  I think my soil is becoming depleted, despite my efforts to rotate crops where I can and incorporate as much compost as I can make and afford each year.

Aside from the slight disappointment, I certainly have lots to enjoy!  And a great thing about stir-fry and ratatouille and just about any mixed-vegetable side is that you can use a little of a lot of varieties to make something delicious.  And then put some basil on it.

I gathered up anything and everything that sounded good for a ratatouille and I was off!  Yes, tomatillos are rare (er, non-existent) in French-ish food, but they were good in the dish and I have hundreds of them on the plants. Since my last post on tomatillos, I have made an excellent batch of enchiladas suizas and a roasted tomatillo-garlic-serrano salsa and am developing a plan for canning them.  I'm really liking tomatillos!  I think that if you happen to be growing them, go ahead and toss them into anything that includes other Nightshade family members and you'll be good to go.

I was weary of posting another tomato and pasta dish and went directly to polenta.  This time, I am posting the instructions, because I figured out how to make great polenta without the burn hazard (!).  And it makes a great base for something like ratatouille...which is rich in flavor because it is usually slow-cooked in a moderate oven for a long time.  This one is made on the stovetop so you can eat earlier than 9:00pm on a work night.  Yay!

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup course cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter

In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil.  Slowly add cornmeal and whisk to break up any clumps.  Return to a boil and reduce heat to low.  Continue to whisk for about one to two minutes, until thickened, but not so thick that it's popping and splattering.  Cover and reduce heat to the lowest setting.  Set timer for 8 minutes.

Turn off heat, remove lid and whisk.  Replace cover and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes, or until you are ready to serve.*  Stir in butter and keep pan covered to stay warm.  You can add cheese at this point if you would like - I like to put in on top instead, so I can really taste it.

*I always cook on my gas stove.  You may have to remove the pan from the burner if you are using an electric range.  If I were you, I would also look into getting a new (gas) stove.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 chile (serrano or jalapeno are great), minced
  • 1-2 eggplant, chopped
  • 1-2 zucchini, chopped
  • 2-4 tomatillos, chopped (optional)
  • 4-6 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • basil to garnish, in chiffonade
  • shredded parmesan, to top

While the polenta is simmering or sitting, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the onions and cook until softened, a couple minutes.  Add in garlic and chile and stir to combine and cook until fragrant. Continue to add in vegetables one at a time, in order of cooking time (how they are written above).  I like to add each as I finish chopping them.

The goal here is to cook everything down to concentrate flavor, so in the end everything is very well cooked and you can't really go wrong.  Do add the tomatoes last, though, when all other vegetable have a good start on cooking - they're acid can slow the cooking process down.  Add a little salt with each vegetable, too, if you feel confident about not adding too much.  The salt helps break down the cell walls of each vegetable, which in turn helps release the juices and develop flavor.

Continue to cook everything together on medium-low while the polenta is sitting and absorbing the water (without boiling and popping and burning you!).  Cook until the tomatoes are thickened and check for seasoning.

Spoon the polenta into each serving bowl (it will be soft until slightly cooled), top with ratatouille, cheese, and the pretty ribbons of basil, and eat.  Wasn't that quick and painless? Literally?

*For any leftover polenta: spread on a plate and allow to cool.  Cut cooled, firm polenta into wedges. To reheat and eat, set a dry, non-stick skillet over medium heat and cook wedges until any moisture has evaporated.  Add in oil to the skillet and lightly brown and crisp-up each side of the polenta wedges.

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