I love the fact that its colder outside and the Christmas tree is up and sparkling. Even if I AM recovering from a cold. I have presents to wrap under the tree. And, I don’t know why but I haven’t been able to find the porcelain figurines to go in my Nativity set. Right now I just have an empty manger waiting for baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the three Wise Men. I know I’ll find ‘em.
After all, the Christmas tree is beautiful and I love my little Santa doll I got in Paris a few years ago that sings “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. (I am NOT making this up.) But the nativity set and the story of Jesus being born in the manger in Bethlehem is really what the season is about, right?
In the midst of all the holiday events and the craziness, we eat a lot of regular meals, too. It makes sense to make them reasonably healthy because we’re eating so much rich, decadent foods. At the same time we want something hearty and stick-to-your ribs because baby it’s cold outside.
Ratatouille has become my go to dish of choice for this. It has a richness and depth of flavor to satisfy those who want hearty fare. It has the colors of autumn. Yet, look at the list of ingredients and it couldn’t be healthier. Perfect to snuggle up with a dish on a chilly night. You can imagine you’re looking out your window at the lavender fields of Provence.
Don’t let the name intimidate you. It’s pronounced “Rat-a-too-ee” and it’s known as pretty simple country fare in France. Yes, there is some chopping to get it all together but it’s well worth the effort and the leftovers are even better heated up the next day. I’ve gotten faster at this prep over the years. The pre-sliced mushrooms and diced tomatoes streamline the preparations a bit.
Generally I think of it as a main dish, but the first time I was introduced to Ratatouille back in college at the home of a girlfriend who came from an Italian family it was as a side dish. In fact the French consider the veggie side dishes to be such an important part of the meal they come to the table on their own separate plate.
Imagine it alongside an unadorned piece of steak, chicken or ham as a side without the Italian sausage or Parmesan cheese. It’s full of flavor and keeps your meal reasonably healthy and low-carb.
Here’s the recipe:
- 2 eggplants, sliced in 1/4-1/2-inch rounds
- 1/3-cup olive oil, divided
- 1 large or two medium onions, diced
- 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
- 3-4 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced into rounds
- 2 yellow Crookneck squash, split lengthwise and sliced into rounds
- 8-ounce container sliced mushrooms
- 1 large can, diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon, Herbes de Provence*
- 2 tablespoons, tomato paste
- 1 pound Italian sausage, sauteed and cut into rounds (optional)
- 1/2-cup deep red wine (optional)
- Fresh grated Parmesan cheese, to garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange slices of eggplant on a baking sheet. Brush lightly with olive oil. Roast for ten minutes. Flip slices over and roast an additional ten minutes.
While eggplant is roasting in a stockpot or Dutch Oven saute diced onions in the remaining olive oil on medium heat. Once onions are translucent after about five minutes add garlic and zucchini and combine. Cook for about ten minutes. Add yellow Crookneck squash and cook an additional ten minutes. Add mushrooms, stir gently to combine and cook an additional ten minutes. Add roasted eggplant slices and cook another five minutes. Add the can of diced tomatoes, Herbes de Provence, tomato paste, Italian sausage and wine (if using). Stir gently just to combine. Turn heat down to medium low or low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Remove lid and simmer for another 20 minutes.
Ladle into bowls and top with a tablespoon each of Parmesan cheese.
* NOTE: Herbes de Provence is a mixture of dried herbes including savory, basil, thyme and lavender. You can get it at some grocery stores. I buy it at Cost Plus World Imports in their specialty foods section where I think they have the best prices.