See, now we’re in the troubling time of the year. The temperatures are slowly warming up, the sun is out on a fairly consistent basis, and it’s all troubling because I’m getting impatient. I want it to be summer now. I want summer, not only for the consistent temperate climes, but of course, because I want all that beautiful, bountiful produce to play with. I want to see my kitchen counter brimming with a variety of vegetables, kind of like this:
Okay, so sure, I was able to take this picture only a few weeks ago, but what makes these vegetables different from the ones I’ll get later this summer from the CSA is that they’re just not as flavorful, no matter how pretty they look. So how can I satisfy my craving for summer fresh produce at this time of the year? The answer is a simple one: roasting.
I frequently turn to roasting vegetables for cooking. Roasting may take a little bit of time, but it’s essentially effortless– just toss the chopped vegetables with some olive oil and seasonings, toss the sheet pan in the oven and forget about it for a little while. No standing over the pot fussing. It’s also wonderful for how it deepens the flavor of the vegetables while intensifying the flavors with sweetness and nuttiness as they caramelize.
In this case, I chose to roast only those vegetables that could benefit the most from that technique’s flavor enhancing benefits– the tomatoes and fennel. I sautéed the rest of my vegetables then combined the two sets into a large baking dish to let them cook together in the oven so their juices and flavors could meld. Then, in the last 10 minutes of cooking, I carefully set eggs on top of my ratatouille and cooked them until the whites set but the yolks were still soft. After crisping up some bread flavored with garlic and olive oil, I carefully set a pile of the ratatouille and a soft egg on top of each crouton then sprinkled on plenty of fresh basil, parsley and mint. So colorful, so flavorful, this is a summery meal that is still comforting when the sun deceives you into thinking it’s warmer than it actually is outside.
- 1.25 pounds (or about 4-5 medium) tomatoes, chopped
- 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed of the stalks and chopped
- 4 medium cloves of garlic, minced and divided plus 1 lightly smashed large clove
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 medium eggplant, diced into 1/2 inch thick pieces
- 1 small sweet onion, sliced
- 1 medium zucchini, diced into 1/2 inch thick pieces
- 1 red, 1 green, and 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped into 1 inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon each fresh mint, parsley, and basil, chopped
- 6 large eggs
- 6 slices crusty bread
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. On a large baking sheet, combine the tomatoes, fennel, 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 2 minced garlic cloves, fennel seeds, coriander, and oregano, and toss until the vegetables are evenly coated. Bake for 25-35 minutes then remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use.
While vegetables roast, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. While oil heats, toss eggplant with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. When oil ripples, add the eggplant and cook until eggplant is lightly caramelized and softened, about 7-8 minutes, adding more oil if necessary to keep the eggplant from sticking to the pan. Remove eggplant to a 13 x 9 baking dish. Wipe out skillet with a paper towel, then add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. When the oil is hot, add the onion and zucchini and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until zucchini just starts to soften. Add two minced garlic cloves and the bell peppers and cook for another 4-5 minutes or until the peppers soften a little. Add these to the baking dish along with the roasted tomatoes and fennel and toss to combine, seasoning with additional salt and pepper to taste. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 30 minutes.
Set the slices of bread on a baking sheet and brush both sides with olive oil, then sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Place sheet in oven and bake along side of the ratatouille for about 15 minutes or until golden and crisp. Remove the toasted bread from the oven and rub both sides of each slice with the large, slightly smashed garlic clove until the garlic is fragrant. After ratatouille has baked for 30 minutes, carefully crack each egg on top of the ratatouille so that each egg remains separated from one another. Return to the oven and bake for another 10-14 minutes or until whites are set and yolk is starting to firm up but is still soft and gooey. (Bake longer if you want a more done egg.)
To plate, place a crouton in the bottom of a bowl then spoon some of the ratatouille with an egg, making sure to keep the yolk in tact, and place on top of the crouton. Spoon some more ratatouille and the any vegetable juices around the egg and then sprinkle with some of the chopped herbs.