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Savory Spiral Ratatouille

Ratatouille is an appropriate side to a meat or fish entree or, with bread or a simple pasta dressed in garlic-and-oil, a meal in itself. Ratatouille is native to Provence, but there are many similar dishes across the Mediterranean. The Spanish have pisto, Sicilians caponata, and the Greek and Turkish tourloú, to name a few. 

The quick approach to ratatouille is to sautè all the vegetables together. But if you want to make it more special, an elegant vegan main course, here is a layered approach. The eggplant, peppers, squash, onions, and tomatoes are overlapped in a colorful spiral and baked. Feel free to use in any combination. I am allergic to bell peppers, so I eliminate those.

Herbes de Provence is a combination of herbs native to the Mediterranean basin. It usually includes summer savory, fennel seed, thyme, basil, rosemary and lavender. You can buy it in jars. But, if you have an herb garden and a food processor (or, better yet, a mortar and pestle), it doesn’t take long to make your own.

Summer savory, a key ingredient, is not nearly as popular as it ought to be and as it used to be. The name tells you something. It has a touch of spice, and a light bright fragrance similar to marjoram and thyme, but a bit more subtle.

It’s best to use Japanese or Italian eggplants. They are smaller and thinner and will layer more successfully. If you use the much larger globe eggplants, you will have to cut the slices down to size. 

It can be made in advance and maybe should be. It seems to taste better the second day.

            Entree for 4.

6 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup “herbes de Provence”

3 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 Italian or Japanese eggplants, about 1 pound

1 zucchini

1 yellow squash

1 red onion

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

1 orange bell pepper

4 medium beefsteak tomatoes

            Preheat an oven to 400 F°.

            Mix the olive oil with the “Herbes de Provence”, garlic, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper.

            As much as possible try to cut all the vegetables the same thickness and the same diameter.

            No need to peel the eggplants. Remove the ends and slice them into ⅛-inch thick rounds.

            No need to peel the squash. Remove the ends and slice them into ⅛-inch thick rounds.

Peel the onions. Slice them into ⅛-inch thick rounds. Trim the bell peppers by cutting away the tops and bottoms. Save them for another use. Discard the seeds and the ribs. Make an incision in the center portion of each pepper so it will lie flat.  Use a cookie cutter or mold to cut the flesh into rounds the same size as the squash rounds. Save what remains for another use.

            Take similarly sized round pieces from the outer edges of each tomato. You will get 4 to 6 per tomato, depending on size of the tomato and how you slice it.  Chop what remains of the rest of the tomatoes, discarding as many of the seeds as possible. 

            Mix 2 cups of the chopped tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of the oil and herb mix and spread it in an even layer across the bottom of a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet.

            Starting in the center of the skillet, build layers in a tight spiral, overlapping and coiling out, moistening each vegetable slice lightly in the oil and herbs before setting it in place thus:


               bell pepper (alternate colors as you go)

                        squash (alternate zucchini and yellow squash as you go)

                           red onion


            Around and around you go, but never back to exactly the same place.

            Repeat until the skillet is full. Drizzle with the remaining oil and herb mixture and place uncovered in the oven until all the vegetables are cooked, about ½ hour. 

            It will be soupy. Turn off the oven and leave the ratatouille in there for an hour or so. This will dry it out and enable you to serve it in neat, colorful wedges.

            Best served slightly warm or at room temperature.

From SIGNS & SEASONS: An Astrology Cookbook, by Amy Zerner, Monte Farber and Chef John Okas.

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