Summer Harvests: Tomato, Zucchini, and Kale Flatbread

“It’s what I want….”

Summer is a special time for our family because we celebrate two of our three children’s birthdays, one in July and one in August. The pandemic, though, put a bit of a damper on our usual festivities, so more emphasis was put on making something special and different for the birthday meals.

One of my daughters wanted to make flatbreads which is not as easy to do gluten free. However, I discovered that Schar makes a thin gluten free pizza crust which I could adapt, and with the garden providing an abundance of fresh tomatoes, zucchini, and kale, we could create our own gluten free flatbreads for my daughter’s birthday meal.

There are no measurements for the ingredients because it really depends on how many flatbreads you are going to make, but I suggest cooking up a lot of the ingredients because once you’ve made a couple of these, you are going to want to make more in just a couple of days!

Tomato, Zucchini, and Kale Flatbread

Ingredients:

garlic cloves (I roasted about 40 cloves)

fresh basil (at least a cup to two cups worth of leaves)

black pepper and salt (to taste)

olive oil (for both the garlic and for the basil-garlic sauce)

onions, thinly sliced (at least a couple of cups worth)

olive oil (for caramelizing the onions)

kale, thinly sliced (at least a couple of cups worth; remember that you double the amount of fresh to get what you need cooked)

zucchini(thinly sliced into half moons; about a couple of cups worth)

minced garlic, olive oil, dried oregano, salt and black pepper (for both the kale and zucchini)

tomatoes (thinly sliced and drained of the seeds; two to four tomatoes at least)

Schar gluten free thin pizza crusts (as many as you think you’ll make; each package has two crusts; we made four but then made another two a day later!)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. In an ovenproof pan, coat the garlic cloves with just enough olive oil to keep the cloves from sticking. Roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes until they are browned and shriveling and the aroma fills your kitchen. Remove from the oven and let them cool.
  3. Add the garlic cloves to a food processor with the basil leaves and begin to food process both, adding just enough olive oil to make a paste. Add black pepper and salt to taste. Set aside.
  4. In a pan on the stovetop, coat the sliced onions with just enough olive oil to coat and cook the onions over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once or twice until the onions are golden and caramelized. Remove from the heat and let them cool.
  5. In a pan on the stovetop, separately saute both the kale and zucchini with olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper until they are tender. Remove and allow them to cool.
  6. Slice the tomatoes and drain them in a colander, removing the seeds. Set aside.
  7. Preheat the oven to 410 degrees. Place the pizza crusts on a cookie sheet and bake for 3 minutes. Then flip the crusts and bake for another 3 minutes.
  8. Spread some of the basil-garlic paste thinly over the crust. Layer with caramelized onions, then tomatoes, then zucchini, then kale.
  9. Bake in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes until the crust is crispy and browned.
  10. Remove to wire cooling racks for five to ten minutes. Enjoy!

 

Summer Harvests: Zucchini-Squash Bake

“That time again….”

This time of year is my favorite. The garden is blooming with zucchini, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, and kale. From the garden to the kitchen to the dinner table, these veggies make for great meals on summer days. The only down side is that we often find ourselves with such a plentiful yield that I need to come up with different ways of serving the vegetables so we are not caught in a rut.

This week, I had an abundance of zucchini and squash and thought I would look up some recipes online. I noticed that there were several sites boasting a zucchini-squash bake but noticed that they were actually the very same recipe over and over again for using heavy cream and butter and cheese to make a white sauce for the vegetables.

Since a dairy allergy precludes all three of those ingredients, I decided to revamp the recipe to create my own sauce. I also decided the recipe had too many complicated steps and made some changes so the prep work would be about ten minutes tops, and the oven could do the rest. The result was pretty tasty.

Zucchini-Squash Bake

Ingredients:

2 tsp olive oil

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp oregano

2 tbsp chopped green onions

8 cups sliced zucchini and squash (cut in half, then sliced into half moons)

1 tbsp olive oil (not a mistake – more olive oil in addition to the first)

2 tbsp garbanzo bean flour

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

1 cup Violife dairy free cheddar cheese

1 cup unsweetened soy milk (not a mistake – another cup’s worth in addition to the first cup)

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp ground onion powder

1 cup freshly chopped basil

2 tbsp chopped green onions (yes, another two tablespoons)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large pan, heat the olive oil with the minced garlic, oregano and green onions for about a minute to release the flavors.
  3. Toss in the chopped zucchini and squash moons and saute for about two to three minutes, just until the colors become vibrant and the herbs have flavored the vegetables. Removed from the heat source and set aside.
  4. In a smaller pan, heat the 1 tbsp olive oil for about a minute. Add the garbanzo bean flour and stir until the flour is completely absorbed into the oil.
  5. Add the first one cup of soy milks, stirring until the flour mixture is dissolved and the mixture begins to thicken.
  6. Add the Violife cheese shreds and stir until until melted. It will be thick.
  7. Stir in the second one cup of soy milk until the sauce is thinner and smooth.
  8. Add the black pepper, onion powder and basil. Remove from the heat.
  9. Stir the sauce into the sauteed zucchini and squash until well coated.
  10. Pour the vegetables into an 11 x 7 pan and sprinkle the green onions on top.
  11. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time.
  12. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Creative Cooking: Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cake

“Anyone who wants them can take them!”

Every summer my husband’s family descends upon the Adirondacks to help with the family forest which has been in existence now for 60 years. When we are up there in the mountains, we have no television, can barely tune into a radio station, can only access email if we go into the town to little one room library, and still have a landline in the house because cell phone coverage is spotty at best. (This is why I’ve written no posts in the past few weeks!)

What we do have here, though, is a lot of farms with wonderful vegetables, and I love going weekly to the farmers’ markets they have every day of the week in a different town. After a while, however, I laugh because folks in the area begin to want to rid themselves of the abundance of vegetables they have, and people will show up at our place with huge bags of vegetables, and when you go to places like church, zucchini will be sitting on the table with a sign, “Please take!”

As such, I’m always looking for ways to use up vegetables like zucchini, and recently my son asked me if I could make a zucchini chocolate chip cake. I hadn’t made one in a long while so I needed to create a recipe. I was out of eggs so I used bananas instead, and because I never use white refined sugar, I chose to use coconut sugar.  In place of regular flour I used gluten free blends and single types, and for flavoring I simply used cinnamon and vanilla, which is all I had in the house. In place of milk I used soy milk but any type will work.

What follows is what we made, and we declared it a success since the entire cake was eaten within two meals!

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups gluten free flour blend (I used a brown rice flour blend)

1/2 cup gluten free oat flour

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinnamon

2 to 3 ripe bananas (you’ll need one cup’s worth of pureed bananas)

1 tbsp gluten free vanilla

1/2 cup safflower oil

1/2 cup soy milk (can use any type, though)

3 cups finely shredded zucchini

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper (or grease as you prefer).
  2. Mix the GF flour blend with the the oat flour, sorghum flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. Puree the bananas so you have a cup’s worth.  Add the vanilla, oil and milk and mix well.
  4. Stir in the zucchini and chocolate chips.
  5. In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients with the wet, adding the vinegar.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the oven until the cake is puffed and golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Will take between 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your oven.

Creative Cooking: Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

“They do look older!”

In our school district the fifth graders spend a week away from home, experiencing nature and science with their teachers. Having been through this before, when my youngest left for his trip, I wasn’t overly concerned. Some of the other parents, however, were anxious because this was their first time sending off a child, and they didn’t know what to expect.

I found, though, that sharing simple reassures from my own experience helped – the 1 to 8 teacher to student ratio, the highly competent and skilled onsite staff, being with friends and teachers whom they’re already comfortable with….

And I promised them that when their children returned, that not only would they have survived but that they’d come back having grown from their experiences. In fact, I told them that, even physically, their children would look older when they step off the bus. So, I had to chuckle when we picked up our children, and sure enough, several parents said to me, “They do look older!”

When I received an email this week, asking how in the world someone could create their own allergy-friendly recipe, it occurred to me that my response would be the same as it was to the parents….

Reassurances: Once you begin experimenting, the knack will come to you. As with everything, practice is the key, and you already have what you need. Refer to the early posts on this site about the standard ratios and patterns which exist for all baked goods. Re-read the information about individual ingredient substitutions. When you know that a cake always takes about 2 cups of flour and that you can substitute a ready-made gluten free flour blend in a certain ratio, experimenting does not need to be scary.

Promises: You will grow in your ability to create your own recipes simply by experimenting. The practice itself will give you a feel for what does and doesn’t work. Might a recipe fail? Maybe… but as Thomas Edison said about the light bulb, “I have not failed. I just found 1,000 ways that didn’t work.” Culinary mishaps are simply learning lessons.

I know, though, from many, many conversations, that folks will still be apprehensive about “experimenting” despite reassurances and promises, so I thought I’d walk folks through a recent experiment of mine.

Over the summer, I thought I had a coup because an online site was selling the allergy friendly chocolate chips I like for a ridiculously low price. I ordered several bags but was dismayed when they arrived because the company had simply shipped them in a plain box despite the 90 degree weather. The chips had completely melted and then re-solidified in square lumps. The company credited my money back to me, but I was still left with chocolate chunks instead of tiny individual chips.

Last week, my husband asked me if I could bake something for a colleague at work. I decided cupcakes would be good because they’re portable, and I could give some to the colleague and still have some for the children at home. I looked in the fridge and the pantry to see what I had on hand. Several zucchini were beginning to look a little sad, so I figured I should use them, but I wanted to jazz them up a bit. Mini chocolate chips would do the trick, but of course, when I went to the pantry, I only found my solid chocolate blocks.

Thinking I could break it, I started whacking at the block with a hammer, only to discover that the solid chocolate was stronger than me and the hammer. The few chunks I managed to break apart told me that I’d be there forever trying to created little chips. So, I pulled out my food processor. Obviously that would do the trick. I popped the chunks in and whizzed the blade.

Well, let me tell you now: When chocolate has been melted and re-solidified, and you pop it into the food processor with the hopes of creating little chips… you won’t get chocolate chips. You’ll make your very own sweetened chocolate powder. A 10 oz block will make 1 1/2 cups of chocolate powder, in fact. 1 1/2 cups of chocolate powder which I didn’t want to waste but wasn’t quite sure what to do with.

Not to be deterred, though, I plowed on. An average cupcake recipe usually takes about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of flour. I knew that if I swapped out 1 1/2 cups of that for the chocolate powder, my recipe simply wouldn’t work, because the chocolate powder wasn’t dense enough and lacked leavening, so I decided I’d just have to add it to the flour and then increase my liquid ingredients, because I knew that in cake recipes, the dry and liquid ingredients are always equal.

The chocolate powder plus the flour (I used a homemade mix of garbanzo bean, sorghum, potato and tapioca flours) came to 3 1/2 cups so I opted to use 1 cup of a homemade soy buttermilk (to add protein and help with leavening), 1/2 cup of unsweetened orange juice (to complement and bring out the zucchini and chocolate flavors), 1/2 cup safflower oil, 3 eggs (increased them from the usual 2 to 3 because the eggs and flour ratio are usually the same and whole eggs because I wanted a moist, dense cupcake), and 1/3 cup of agave (wanted a little sweetener but didn’t need a whole lot because the chocolate powder was sweetened).

My next consideration was the leavening powders. I knew that one needs about 1 tsp of baking powder and/or 1/4 tsp of baking powder per cup of flour, so I’d need something equivalent for the 3 1/2 cups of flour/chocolate powder. I decided to use a mixture of 2 tsp of baking powder with 1 tsp of baking soda (because I wanted my cupcakes to rise but not rise so high that it would sink, and a mixture does that best). I opted to add some spices – cinnamon, allspice and clovers – as well because they’d complement the chocolate and orange flavors nicely.

The final step was to think about the “sugar”. Most cake recipes call for two cups of sugar. I had already added 1/3 cup of Agave, so I knew I could cut back on the sugar to about 1 cup, but I didn’t want to use sugar because I never bake with it. Increasing the Agave at this point, though, would mess up the ratio of dry to liquid ingredients, plus make for a denser cupcake than I wanted; so I decided to use coconut sugar (which would help brown the cupcake nicely).

My experimental recipe was done, and I could only pop it into the oven and hope for the best.

They came out delicious. The chocolate powder made for a milder chocolate taste and for a lighter cupcake than if I had used melted chocolate.  My kids want me to make them again and sooner as opposed to later.

Yes, they could have flopped because it was an experiment, but using the knowledge I had about recipe patterns and ratios, I could methodically work my way through the changes, and the results were worth it.

If you begin experimenting, I both reassure you and promise you that you will find the same results.

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup chocolate powder*

2 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend**

1 cup coconut sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3 eggs

1/2 cup safflower oil

1/3 cup agave

1/2 cup unsweetened orange juice

1 cup soy milk mixed with 1 tbsp lemon juice***

2 cups loosely packed shredded zucchini

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with liners.
  2. Mix the chocolate powder, flour blend, coconut sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
  3. Blend the eggs, oil, agave, orange juice and buttermilk well and the zucchini to the wet mixture.
  4. Combine the dry and wet ingredients until the dry ingredients are fully moistened.
  5. Evenly divide the batter among the muffin cups. They will be quite full.
  6. Bake until the cupcakes are puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Check at 15 minutes and adjust the time accordingly. Mine took about 25 minutes.

* A 10 oz solid chocolate bar processed in the food processor will yield the desired amount of chocolate powder.

** I made a homemade blend of garbanzo bean, sorghum, potato and tapioca flour, but you can use what you’d prefer.

*** It doesn’t have to be soy milk; you can use whatever type you’d prefer. Just be sure to add the lemon juice to make it a buttermilk.

 

 

 

 

Menu Suggestion: Stuffed Flounder

“We’d like to take you on a whale watch.”

Some friends of ours wanted to thank us for having been there for them over the years and suggested treating us to a whale watch, something the children had always said they wanted to do but which we’d never had.

The day was beautiful, and as we began the journey towards the open seas, the children had a great time watching the waves, feeling the wind, and chatting with our friends. Slowly, however, we began to realize that our children suffer from seasickness, and within an hour of the trip, the children were… well, let’s just say, their symptoms weren’t the pleasant kind.

While my daughters were old enough to fend for themselves, I ended up being caretaker for my son, holding him, watching his face, helping him to rinse his mouth, and the like. By the time it was clear there really wasn’t much else left to come out of him, he was just plain exhausted, and he fell into a deep sleep.

Just after he fell asleep is, of course, when we finally reached the deepest waters and amazingly enough there were three beautiful whales to be seen for a very long time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t rouse my sleeping son to see it. After his miserable experience, he wanted nothing to do with the whales and just kept pushing me away, insisting he’d rather sleep. In the end he missed what would probably have been one of the best experiences of his life.

Sometimes I feel people behave similarly when it comes to the idea of eating fish. They had a bad experience once or they ate some which didn’t taste to their liking or they don’t like the look and smell of fish in general, and they write off all fish and end up missing food which is not only very healthy for them but which can be incredibly tasty.

Recently we wanted to make a special meal for dinner, and I chose to make flounder. Flounder is one of those fishes you’ll often find on a restaurant menu because it’s very mild tasting. As a rule my children actually prefer salmon over most white fish, but I like to use flounder (or sole, as it’s sometimes called, too) when I want to make a nice stuffed dish for a special occasion.

What’s nice about flounder is that is has all the health benefits of fish while also being low in mercury which they’re always telling you to be wary of eating too much of. For stuffing purposes, it’s a nice fish because they’re thin and layer and roll well.

By now, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’m a firm believer in making things as easy as possible. So, this post is about how to make a quick and easy stuffed flounder. There is no rolling of fish, no trying to hold the rolled fish and stuffing while trying to roll it in bread crumbs, too. This is my version of what is actually a very nice company dish, which you can adapt to your own tastes.

Tips for Stuffed Flounder:

1. The flounder: The two big debates you’ll always hear are “wild versus farmed” and “fresh versus frozen”. Generally speaking, people say that wild fish doesn’t have the types of chemicals you’ll find in farmed fish. Personally, I think you’re going to find both bad and good in anything you eat these days, from fruit and veggies covered in pesticides to milk produced from cows given growth hormones. Be wise about moderating what you, wash all your produce, and recognize that sometimes the good health benefits outweigh the possibility of ingesting something not as good. Fortunately, flounder isn’t as greatly farmed as salmon, so most flounder found in the stores are usually wild anyway.

As for fresh versus frozen, people make a big deal about frozen fish being second rate. I personally have never found anything to complain about. Frozen fish is cheaper and ready when you want to use it instead of having to eat it on its freshness timetable. The tip is to make sure that after you defrost it, you rinse the fillets and pat them completely dry. If you choose to purchase fresh flounder at a fish market or at the grocery store, make sure they’re fillets (unless you like skinning and boning a whole fish yourself, in which case, go for it) which are a nice white color, not graying, and which don’t smell – fresh flounder really doesn’t smell all that fishy.

2. The stuffing: You can use almost anything you want to stuff flounder. People will use bread crumbs, stuffing, rice, vegetables, even meat. I personally prefer to use vegetables, and the recipe I will be sharing uses frozen greens mixed with other sauteed vegetables.

So, you can choose spinach, kale, collards, turnip greens, your choice. For my recipe, it is important to use thawed frozen versions of these as opposed to fresh because you need the moisture from the frozen varieties for making the creamy sauce for the vegetable stuffing.

For other vegetables, any possible combination exists. My personal favorites are spinach and mushrooms or kale and zucchini and squash or collards and carrots, but you can use whatever foods you like best.

3. The topping: When you’re making a stuffed flounder, you can leave it bare or you can cover it. I prefer to cover the flounder because it helps to keep the flounder from drying out too much. Many recipes will call for either coating it in breadcrumbs or making a sauce to pour over it. I prefer to use a light breadcrumb topping because I’m not actually rolling the flounder to stuff it.

For a breadcrumb topping, I use a nice gluten free high fiber bread which I pulse into tiny breadcrumb pieces, but you can always use a gluten free packaged bread crumb mixture, too. The key is to not use as much as most recipes call for and to use a nice olive oil instead of butter and to mix it with lovely herbs for a great taste.

4. The preparation: Most stuffed flounder recipes tell you to individually roll the flounder around the stuffing, and it is true that those little rolled pieces of fish look quite pretty when you put them onto your company’s plate. The problem I find, though, is that it’s not always easy to roll the fish around the stuffing and to get it to stay rolled, and when you go to eat it, it’s actually quite a mess because the fish will fall apart and then you’re eating the fish and stuffing separately anyway.

So, what I do is to put a layer of fish on the bottom of a pan, put my stuffing on top of those fillets, and then cover the stuffing with a second layer of fillets. This way, you have fish on both sides of your stuffing without the hassle of rolling, and when you eat it, the tastes of the fish and the stuffing meld together in your mouth. In addition, when the fish is topped with bread crumbs, the final presentation is quite pretty and easy to serve.

Stuffed Flounder

(Recipe for a company crowd, can cut in half for a family)

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 tbsp minced onions

16 oz sliced mushrooms or sliced zucchini and squash or sliced carrots

10 to 16 oz thawed frozen spinach or kale or collards:  Do NOT squeeze out any of the liquid.

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried crushed thyme

8 oz tofu cream cheese

14 thin flounder fillets

1 cup gluten free high fiber bread crumbs

1 to 2 tsp olive oil

2 tsp Italian herb blend

Cooking Instructions:

1.  Lightly grease an 11 x 15 pan and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large sauteing pan, mix the olive oil with the garlic and onions and cook for about a minute over meduim low heat until fragrant.

3. Add the mushrooms or zucchini and squash or carrots and saute for 3 to 5 minutes until the vegetables are softer and beginning to cook through.

4. Add the spinach or kale or collards along with the pepper, oregano and thyme and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes until most but not all of the liquid has begun to evaporate.

5. Put the tofu cream cheese into the center of the vegetable mixture and continue to stir and mix the cream cheese into the vegetables over medium low heat until its completely melted and incorporated into the mixture. This usually takes about 2 to 4 minutes.

6. Layer seven flounder fillets on the bottom of the baking pan. Cover each fillet with the vegetable mixture. Cover the vegetable stuffing with the last seven fillets, and flatten the layered fish so it completely fills your pan and is even.

7. In the same pan you used for making the vegetable stuffing, mix the bread crumbs with just enough olive oil to moisten them and with the herb blend. Saute for a minute.

8. Evenly divide the bread crumbs over the top of the stuffed fillets and pat the crumbs down so they stick to the top of the fish.

9. Bake for about 20 minutes. The topping will be golden brown, the fish a nice white, and there will be some bubbling from the stuffed vegetable mixture.

If your oven runs hot, check it at 15 minutes. You don’t want to overcook the fish. If by some chance you do, overcook it a little bit, cover the pan with foil and let it sit, covered, until you’re about to serve it.  This will restore some of the moisture to the fish.

10. Serve the stuffed fish with a nice salad of mixed greens and herbs and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking Techniques: Ratatouille

website ratatouille\

“Can we PLEASE have vegetables for the rest of the summer?”

My children and I just returned home from a whirlwind trip, visiting many relatives and friends within a four state radius. While we enjoyed being with the people we loved, we ate a lot more meat than we are used to eating. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, we ate meat at everyone else’s homes, because they either ate more meat in general than we do or because they thought they were giving us a treat by cooking meat.

Still, I laughed in surprise to hear my middle child practically begging me to purchase only vegetables when we stopped at the grocery store on our way home from our trip. I asked her if there was anything in particular she wanted me to make for dinner that evening when we arrived home, and she promptly answered, “Ratatouille.”

For any folks unfamiliar with ratatouille, it’s a wonderful vegetable dish originating from France. The main vegetable ingredients are usually eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers, though recipes may vary. It makes for both an excellent side dish or a main entree. My children like to eat it sprinkled with reduced fat shredded cheese and with a side of nice, crusty whole grain bread.

I love to make it in the summer time when we can pick the vegetables fresh from our garden. It’s a light and refreshing meal for a hot, summer day, especially if you simply cook it quickly on the stove top or in your crockpot, both of which don’t heat up your kitchen too much.

Ratatouille Information:

1. Cooking Methods: There are a variety of ways to make ratatouille, and if you google it you’ll see that many chefs actually are very particular about the best method for making ratatouille. I have tried all methods and find that there are pros and cons to each.

The most used method is to simply saute the vegetables in a pan on the stove top. This is nice because you can make the dish quickly for a family that is complaining that they’re “starving”.  In addition, it requires very little additional oil to saute. You need to be sure, though, to cut all the vegetables into sizes which will saute equitably and to cook them in order from longest cooking to shortest so you’re not serving a ratatouille which has overcooked zucchini with undercooked eggplant.

Another method is to roast the vegetables. What’s nice about roasted vegetable ratatouille is that all the pleasant, sweet tastes of the vegetables come out when roasted. The downside is that you usually need to roast the vegetables separately or precisely time the addition of each of the vegetables to the dish, both of which take time. As well, in the summer time, your kitchen will heat up quickly at the high temperatures needed for roasting. You’ll also find that you need a bit more oil to keep the vegetables from sticking to your pan as they roast.

A third method is to simply put your vegetables into a crockpot to slow cook over time. This method is extremely useful if you’re going to be out all day and want something done when you arrive home. The crockpot does make for a softer ratatouille, though, unless you’re home to take it out as soon as you see that the vegetables are at the slightly firmer texture you want. This method, however, does completely cut out the need for any fat which is nice for folks who need to watch their fat intake.

A fourth method is baking the ratatouille in the oven as a casserole. I like to do this when I’m going to have company and don’t want to be cooking instead of chatting. You simply layer the vegetables into a casserole dish and bake the entire casserole at once. This method is convenient and easy. It does, however, make for a moister dish because the liquids from the vegetables won’t evaporate like they do when you saute the vegetables. If, however, you like cheese with your ratatouille, layering the vegetables with the cheese makes for a very tasty casserole.

A fifth method is to layer the vegetables like you would for baking in the oven, only you do so in a pot and simmer the ratatouille over the stove top instead. This doesn’t warm your house as much as using the oven would, and it doesn’t require the constant watch and stirring that sauteing the vegetables does. The results, however, are more soupy than the other methods.

2. Main Vegetables: Eggplant is the base for ratatouille. You want a nice firm eggplant which isn’t under ripe or over ripe, though. When you press with your finger into the skin of the eggplant, you should leave an imprint which slowly comes back to shape. If your indent goes deep and doesn’t press back, it’s a bit riper than you might want. If you press and it’s hard, leaving no indent, it’s not ripe enough. A ripe eggplant will have a nice glossy purple skin with a bright green cap. Eggplant with bruises or dark splotches are to be avoided.

To cut eggplant for ratatouille I recommend peeling the eggplant first, then slicing into 1/4 inch rounds which you then cut into 1 inch squares which are a good size for both cooking and eating. You should cut your other vegetables up first before you cut your eggplant, though, because eggplant starts to brown pretty quickly after it’s been cut.

For your zucchini and squash, I recommend using smaller ones over the larger sized versions. They’re tastier, sweeter, moister, and less seedy. If you only have larger sizes, though, simply scoop out the seeds and cut the zucchini and summer squash into bite size pieces.

If you’re using the smaller sized zucchini and summer squash – think 6 inches in length – I recommend cutting them in half and then slicing them into 1/4 inch half moon shapes. These cook quickly and provide nice bite size eating pieces.

For peppers, you can use whatever pepper you like, but I prefer the sweeter bell peppers. One, the taste complements the eggplant well, and two, using different colored peppers (red, orange, yellow) makes for a prettier ratatouille. I recommend cutting the peppers into 1 inch square pieces so they cook readily with the other vegetables and are easy to eat.

3. Other Additions: Some people believe a ratatouille should only have eggplant, zucchini, squash and peppers. Others like to add more ingredients. It’s really up to you.

We like the versions which add mushrooms so if we have mushrooms on hand, we’ll use them. I usually slice white button or cremini mushrooms into 1/4 inch slices for adding to the ratatouille.

Another nice addition if you want to add protein is beans. Chick peas, cannellini beans, and black-eyed peas are all tasty in a ratatouille. And some people even like to add cooked chopped chicken, though, as a family we don’t really make it that way.

4. Tomatoes: Ratatouille always uses tomatoes. Purists will say you should only use fresh tomatoes which you peel, seed and dice yourself. I must admit, it’s rather delicious to make ratatouille with fresh tomatoes. I, however, tend to use dice tomatoes which I’ve frozen or get in a can, because it’s faster, more convenient, and simpler. For my tastes, I prefer the tomatoes to be petite-sized diced tomatoes because they blend better with the other vegetables, but larger sized dices tomatoes are fine, too.

5.  Seasonings:  Ratatouille will most always call for onions, garlic, basil and oregano, but from there recipes vary. Some add more herbs like thyme and parsley. Many call for salt and pepper. A few like to mix things up and call for a bit of red pepper or balsamic vinegar.

I find that using fresh herbs gives the ratatouille the best taste, but often I use dried herbs because that’s what I have in the house and on hand. If you’re using fresh herbs, be sure to add them at the end of the cooking. If you’re using dried, add it near the beginning of the cooking time.

For the garlic, you’ll find that recipes call for different ways of preparing it. Some say to use slivers. Others call for minced garlic. A few will suggest roasting the garlic first. Occasionally recipes will tell you to add smashed garlic. It really depends on your tastes and your time.

Roasted garlic is delightful in a ratatouille but then you have to take the time to roast it. Mince garlic incorporates more evenly throughout the ratatouille. Slivers give you more of a garlicky bite. Smashed garlic exudes more of the flavor.

As for salt and pepper: I rarely add salt, but using a small amount will bring out the flavors a bit more. I always add pepper because I like pepper but if you don’t want the pepper to overpower your other flavors.

6. Oil: Ratatouille usually calls for olive oil. The flavor of olive oil goes exceptionally well with ratatouille. Sometimes, though, recipes will call for another type. I would recommend sticking to a plant based oil which is a bit healthier for you and using as little as you can to keep the fat intake to a good level. My preference is to use an extra-virgin olive oil but most any olive oil works well and tastes good.

Quick and Easy Sauteed Ratatouille

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup mushrooms, washed and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces (can omit if wanted)

2 to 3 peppers (yellow, red and/or orange; varying the colors is prettier), seedede and cut into 1 inch squares

1/2 cup chopped onions (frozen chopped onions work wonderfully)

one eggplant, about 8 inches in length and 4 inches in width

6 to 8 zucchini, about 6 to 8 inches in length, cut in half and then into 1/4 inch half moons (if using larger sizes, scoop out the seeds)

6 to 8 summer squash, about 6 to 8 inches in length, cut in half and then into 1/4 inch half moons (if using larger sizes, scoop out the seeds)

1 tbsp minced garlic

2 tsp dried basil or 1 to 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil

1 tsp dried oregano or 1/2 to 1 cup loosely packed fresh oregano

1/4 to 1/2 tsp black pepper, according to your tastes

3 cups petite diced tomatoes (if using canned, that’s about a 28 oz can)

Cooking Instructions:

1. Prepare all the vegetables first, washing, peeling, seeding and chopping and have them ready on hand to cook.

2. Heat olive oil for about 30 seconds in a large size pan over medium high heat or in a wok or in a deep dish griddle at 350 degree heat.

3. Add the mushrooms, peppers and onions to the olive oil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Add the eggplant and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Add the zucchini and squash and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is greenish-purple.

6. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic and black pepper and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. (If you want a soupier ratatouille cook with a cover on. For a thicker ratatouille saute without a lid.)

7. Serve with reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese and crusty bread.