Ratatouille – or how to freeze summer

I’ve been meaning to write about making ratatouille for a few weeks now. I don’t mean the beautiful baked version from the cartoon movie – wonderful though that is, it’s not the one I make every year, late in tomato season, when all the ingredients are ready fresh from the harvest.

I suppose I should apologize, because I just don’t have a beautiful photo of the finished dish. The simplest reason is that it’s not made because it’s pretty. It’s made because it tastes absolutely wonderful, using the best, freshest ingredients of late summer, and because it can be used in so many ways. To look at it, if you don’t know what it is, and can’t smell the enticing aroma, it looks – well, like a reddish lumpy glop. So perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t have a photo, hm?

But oh, the taste! The taste is why I make a HUGE pot of this to freeze. Being a lumpy rustic glop is just perfect, for something that goes in the freezer; it freezes well. And there’s very little more satisfying than to have a big bowl of August during a winter blizzard.

This makes a very large pot of ratatouille. I use a 20-quart stockpot, which is a little big for the purpose – I’d say you should use at least a 12-quart pot.

  • 3/4 c olive oil
  • 2-3 eggplants, 3 to 4 lbs in all
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 lb onions (I like the red ones)
  • 3 lb medium summer squash or zucchini or a mixture
  • 6 large bell peppers, any colors you like
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 6 c crushed tomatoes (I used freshly squished tomatoes on a canning day)
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • fresh herbs, chopped – I use parsley, dill, basil, and oregano

There’s a bunch of prep involved. First, the eggplant: slice them crosswise into 3/4″ slices, then cut the slices into 3/4″ strips. Put these strips in a really large colander, sprinkle them with 2 Tbsp salt, and mix well. Let them stand 2 hours or so, stirring a couple of times. THen rinse them under cold running water, rubbing the strips lightly, to remove the salt. Shake the colandar well to drain, then lay the strips on towels, cover, and press each strip firmly, until the water is absorbed and the strips are leathery. Now cut those strips into 3/4″ cubes.

While the eggplant is draining, peel the onions and chop them coarsely. Cut the squashes in 3/4″ chunks. Cut the peppers in chunks about the size of a postage stamp. Mince the garlic – the last time I made this, I used an entire head of garlic, to make about 2 Tbsp minced. Chop a generous amount of parsley (think 1/4 – 1/2 cup chopped), and a smaller amount of dill, oregano, and basil. If you don’t have fresh herbs, dried will do, in which case, use 2 Tbsp each dried basil and oregano.

To cook: heat the oil in a very large pot. Saute the onions, and when they begin to be translucent, stir in the squashes, peppers, and garlic. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are wilted, and lightly colored. Now stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and the herbs. Stir well, then simmer a bit, until the vegetables begin to soften. The time will vary depending on the size and shape of your pot.

Add the eggplant cubes, stir well, and simmer again, until all the vegetables are cooked through. Stir occasionally. Season to taste, and ladle into smaller containers to cool, and refrigerate. Never put hot things directly into the freezer! Cool well on the counter in open containers, then refrigerate, then label and freeze once the contents are cold.

When I last made this, I ended up with about 9 quarts to freeze. I feel rich.



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