Ratatouille

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From Ellen Jackson

Ratatouille is a Provençal ragout of summer’s most abundant, brightly colored fruits. Equally delicious hot or cold, its flavor improves as it sits. The vegetables should remain intact yet meltingly soft, cloaked in a syrupy reduction of their communal juices. This is best achieved by cooking the elements separately without stirring. Instead, shake softly and persistently to prevent sticking.

1 lb eggplant, as small as you can find
1 lb zucchini
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup good, fruity olive oil
1/2 lb onion, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic
2 sweet red or yellow peppers, sliced (about 1 cup)
1 lb firm, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and juiced (about 1 1/2 cups pulp)
1/4 cup parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper

Trim the ends of the eggplant and zucchini and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices. Cut again so that the pieces are approximately 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. Place the eggplant and zucchini in a colander, toss with salt and let stand for 30 minutes. Blot with paper towels.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12-inch pan until hot. Add the eggplant in a single layer and sauté about a minute on each side or until very lightly browned. Repeat the same procedure with the zucchini and 2 tablespoons oil. Set both aside.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to the same pan and slowly cook the onions and peppers until tender but not browned. Add garlic and season to taste.

Slice the pieces of tomato pulp in 1/2-inch thick strips and place on top of the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over low for 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to render their juices. Uncover, baste the tomatoes with their juices, and boil for several minutes or until juices have evaporated.

Put 1/3 of this mixture in the bottom of a 2 or 3-quart casserole that is 2 1/2 inches deep. Sprinkle with parsley and arrange 1/2 of the eggplant and zucchini on top. Repeat and finish with the remaining tomatoes and parsley.

Cover the casserole and simmer on low for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip and baste with the rendered juices. Taste and correct the seasoning. Raise the heat slightly and cook uncovered for 15 minutes, basting several times. Be careful not to scorch the vegetables. Most of the juices will evaporate, leaving a few spoonfuls of flavorful oil.

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