A Perfect Fall Day

10 Oct

What a gorgeous fall day we had yesterday — sunny, warm, but crisp with leaves blowing off the trees and covering the backyard. Though the kids and I spent a good chunk of the day cleaning their rooms (with the windows wide open!), they did spend the late afternoon raking the leaves into big piles and jumping in them. They were also creative enough to rake a huge pile around the bottom of the slide. Then they could go down the slide and land in the pile!

It was perfect weather for end of summer produce roasted together and turned into a tasty ratatouille. Yes, ratatouille!

The name “ratatouille” comes from the French word “touiller”, which means “to stir.” It’s also known as a peasant’s stew. Traditional ratatouille consisted of eggplant, zucchini, onions, garlic, peppers and tomatoes, although I’m sure each family had their own “special” combination of ingredients and seasonings. Growing up, I really didn’t care for the eggplant in ratatouille, but I do now. My kids, on the other hand, have the same tastes as me as a kid — they don’t like the eggplant in it. If you’re not a fan of eggplant, skip it and add in another vegetable that you like or double up on some of the other ingredients as a substitute.

Ratatouille is really quite simple to make. Basically, you cut up all your vegetables and roast them together in the oven. It’s delicious on its own with a chunk of crusty bread for sopping up the juices, but I topped mine with polenta hearts. I knew that still wouldn’t be hearty enough for my meat eaters, so I grilled some Trader Joe’s Vegan Italian Sausage links to serve alongside.

This ratatouille recipe comes from a diabetic cookbook I bought my mother-in-law a few years ago, with a few minor changes. I’ve made it several times before and it’s very good. This time, though, I decided to try it with no-salt-added diced tomatoes instead of regular canned diced tomatoes and it wasn’t quite as good. I had to doctor the seasonings a bit at the end. So if you aren’t concerned about your sodium intake, go all out and use the regular diced tomatoes. They give it a much richer taste.

The polenta is simply the basic recipe off the back of the package of grits/polenta. Cook it as directed then spread it on a cookie sheet and refrigerate. When it’s solid, cut it with a cookie cutter then saute and serve. The inside gets creamy while the outside is crisp. Delicious.

Roasted Ratatouille with Polenta Hearts
serves 5-6

Polenta:
3 cups water
1 cup quick-cooking grits/polenta
pinch of salt
olive oil

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in salt and polenta. Reduce heat and continue to stir until thickened and creamy, about 5 minutes. Spread evenly (about 3/8″ thick) on a rimmed baking sheet and allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate until firm. (Can be made a day ahead.) While the ratatouille is baking, cut chilled polenta into desired shapes. Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute polenta until lightly browned on the edges. Flip and saute until bottom is lightly browned. Move to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Ratatouille:
1 large eggplant (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 medium yellow squash, sliced
1 medium onion, halved and then sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2″ pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a large roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, onion, and peppers. Add olive oil, thyme and rosemary. Toss to coat. Spread the vegetables evenly on the pan. Roast, stirring occasionally, for 45 to 50 minutes or until the vegetables are lightly browned and tender.

Transfer the vegetables to a 2-quart baking dish. Add the diced tomatoes with the juice, parsley, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix well to combine. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the sauce thickens and the top is bubbly. Sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired. Serve with polenta hearts. Enjoy!

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