It’s been a very strange week. I found out the 26-year-old bakery magazine where I’ve spent the past few years as an editor is shuttering. The August story deadlines no longer have to be met. The website, with its 15-odd years of content, will go dark. The winner of our annual Retail Bakery of the Year Award had to be told that they would no longer be the cover story of the September issue … because there would be no September issue.
It’s an odd feeling to halt production on something that worked like veritable clockwork for so long. But now I have nothing between me and an honest-to-goodness freelance food writing career–my safety net is gone. Five years on, I’ll (hopefully) look back and say it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. But for right now, it’s a little scary.
So on my second to last day at Modern Baking, I left the office a few hours early and went home to make ratatouille. I was in need of some comfort, and fast.
Ratatouille is the perfect stress reliever. It’s simple yet very time consuming, with all sorts of peeling, chopping and cooking in separate batches. In other words, ideal for an out-of-work writer in need of reflection and perhaps a little self-pity.
There’s also something about the process that is very reassuring. If you sauté vegetables in olive oil, then let them simmer together on low, they will break down and release their juices, resulting in a rich, nourishing vegetarian stew. It brings back a small sense of control at a time when so many things are up in the air.
Note: You can cut the cooking time down by as much as an hour if you want. Shorter cooking time will leave the vegetables in larger, more distinct pieces; whereas longer cooking time will break the vegetables down into a homogenous stew.
Summer vegetable ratatouille
adapted from The Kitchn
1 large eggplant
Salt, as needed
1 large onion
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Pepper, to taste
1 large bell pepper (any color)
Dry white wine, as needed
4 cloves garlic
4 large tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup torn basil leaves
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Crusty bread, for serving
Method: Peel the eggplant and chop it into bite-size cubes. Transfer it to a strainer set over a bowl. Toss the eggplant with a teaspoon of salt and let it drain while you prep the other vegetables.
Peel and chop the onion into bite-size pieces. Trim and rinse the leek thoroughly under cold running water. Chop the white and light green part into bite-size pieces. Heat a few teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat in a 5-qt. Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot. Sauté the onion and leek with a little salt and pepper until soft, 5-7 minutes.
Add the bell pepper and sauté another 5 minutes until soft. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl.
Add another teaspoon or so of oil and the zucchini, salt and pepper. Sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of vegetables.
Rinse the eggplant under cold running water and gently squeeze it to remove as much liquid as possible. Add a few teaspoons of olive oil to the pot and sauté the eggplant with a little salt and pepper until translucent. Add it to the bowl with the other vegetables.
Note: During cooking, a brown glaze will build on the bottom of the pot. If it starts looking like it’s going to burn, add a few glugs of dry white wine to the pot and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon. Pour any residual liquid into the bowl with the vegetables.
Warm another teaspoon of olive oil in the pot and sauté the garlic until it is fragrant and just starting to brown, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, dill and three quarters of the basil. As the tomato juices begin to bubble, scrape up the brown glaze from the bottom of the pan.
Add all of the vegetables back to the pot and stir until everything is evenly mixed. Bring the stew to a simmer, then turn down the heat to low. Stirring occasionally, simmer for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the bay leaf and stir in the remaining basil. Turn off the heat, and ladle a few heaping spoonfuls of ratatouille into bowls. Drizzle each bowl with good quality extra virgin olive oil and serve with a few hunks of baguette or other crusty bread for sopping. Ratatouille is also wonderful served at room temperature.