What do you make in August, peak of the summer harvest, when stands at the farmers market overflow with zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes?

Ratatouille! Traditionally a French Provençal dish of stewed vegetables and herbs, ratatouille is a meal on its own, makes for a great lunch, or can be paired with grilled meats. Yuji suggested preparing it with lamb in the same pot which actually sounds quite good. Next time. Variations on the recipe abound, and my own changes include the addition of chickpeas and a garnish of grated Parmesan (or Ricotta Salata, as I used last night).

The first time I tried something like ratatouille was about twelve years ago, when my step-mom Bonnie made a quick dinner of whole canned tomatoes, eggplant, and chickpeas. I believe she didn’t even use garlic or an onion. To my young taste buds this dish was a revelation.

Since then I’ve tinkered and tweaked, and like the recipe below. I sometimes make more of a sauce to serve over pasta (more tomatoes, more olive oil), but no longer make the variation that included tofu. (Hey, you learn by making mistakes.)

Julia Child’s ratatouille recipe will probably produce good results but seemed overly fussy to me, too many steps for what is essentially simple, peasant fare. (Yuji thought I described the dish as “prison” food instead of “peasant” food. Who knows, maybe they do serve ratatouille in French prisons.)

Here is my version, which makes enough for lots of leftovers, and is hard to mess up.

As an aside I just have to say I miss playing with my friends’ Canon 7D Digital SLR camera on Long Island. That’s what took the photos of my blog posts from out there and it’s hard to go back to the ole iPhone so I’m saving up for a serious upgrade.

Summer Ratatouille

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium to large eggplants or 3 small, chopped in roughly 1/2-inch pieces
salt and pepper
2 zucchinis, roughly chopped
1 large red or white onion, or 2 smaller
2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped, plus a few stems with leaves still on
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 large tomatoes, chopped, or 1 pint Sun Golds, halved, or 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
3/4 c dried chick peas, soaked and cooked, or 1 12-oz can, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup basil leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish
Parmesan or Ricotta Salata, for garnish

Serves 4-5 as a main, 6-7 as a side

1. Heat the oil in a large sautée pan over medium heat. Add the eggplant and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat until the eggplant becomes soft and golden, about 10-15 minutes.

2. Then add the zucchini, stirring occasionally, until mostly softened, 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook an additional few minutes, stirring. Next add the chopped thyme and a couple stems, which you will discard later. After a few minutes add the garlic.

3. Add the tomatoes, cook until they begin to fall apart, then add the chickpeas. Let this cook for another 5-10 minutes then remove from heat and fish out the thyme stems and discard. Garnish with basil and grated cheese. Serve on its own, with nice crusty bread and butter, or with grilled chicken or lamb.