The inspiration for this dish comes from several places. Recently I came home from the farmers' market with some especially fine baby eggplant and I wanted to find a nice way to use them.
As I paged through some of my favorite cookbooks looking for ideas, I was most attracted to the stew-like preparations. The large artistic chunks of vegetables in Deborah Madison's "A Farmer's Stew" "—so called because its relaxed manner of preparation makes it "...ideal for tired farmers at the end of the day..."—drew me in because it seemed a perfect vehicle for my baby eggplant. But it was the flavors from a recipe in Claudia Roden's Arabesque and another in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty—hearty tomato based, eggplant ragoûts—that really appealed. Ultimately, my ragoût didn't truly resemble any of these dishes...but I wouldn't have arrived at the dish I made without them...so I wanted to give credit to them.
The idea behind the ragoût is simple and it is easily executed. While the eggplant and summer squash roast in a hot oven, the tomato sauce gets a brief simmer. When the vegetables are tender and caramelized they are folded into the sauce where they cook very gently for a short length of time. This final simmer is mostly to allow the flavors of the sauce to permeate the roasted vegetables. In fact, if the sauce has been reduced to your liking while the vegetables roast, and the roasted vegetables are sufficiently tender when added to the sauce, the vegetables don't even need to simmer—you can simply fold them into the sauce, cover the pan and turn off the heat while you prepare an accompaniment of rice or couscous. From start to finish, the whole operation only takes about an hour—much of it "hands-off" time. Truly a perfect meal to make and serve at the end of a tiring day.
As I mentioned, the first time I made the dish I used baby eggplant. But you can of course make the stew with globe or Japanese eggplant—just cut these into large, thick slabs. Since I no longer had any baby eggplant the second time I prepared the stew, this is what I did. In both cases, I cut the squash to mirror the size and shape of the pieces of eggplant.
|Baby Eggplant (halved & quartered) with green & yellow zucchini halved and cut in a similar size on a diagonal.|
|Globe eggplant and pattipan squash cut in large, 1/2-inch thick slabs.|
Upon your initial inspection of the finished dish, you might think that it is not particularly lovely to look at. But like many of the tomato and eggplant based stews and ragoûts of late summer, it is so flavorful and so satisfying that once you have taken that first bite, it suddenly seems very beautiful indeed.
Late Summer Ragoût of Roasted Eggplant & Summer Squash
with Tomatoes, Chickpeas & Feta
4 to 5 oz. red onion
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 lb. eggplant—baby, globe or Japanese
3/4 lb. Summer squash—small zucchini, yellow summer squash or patti pan
14 to 16 oz. vine ripened tomatoes
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 rounded t. double concentrated tomato paste
1/4 to 1/3 c. dry white wine
1 t. dried oregano (or 1 T. minced fresh)
3/4 c. cooked chickpeas (half of a can), rinsed
Minced flat leaf parsley
Warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a wide sauté pan or a braiser set over moderate heat. While the pan heats, halve and core the onion and cut it into 1/4-inch thick slices. Add the onion to the pan along with a pinch of salt. Cook the onions and a gentle sizzle until they are tender and beginning to caramelize.
Meanwhile, cut the eggplant and squash into large chunks. If using baby eggplant and baby squash, simply trim and halve them. For large eggplant and squash, cut them into 1/2- to 1/3-inch thick slabs that are about 2 to 3 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. The exact size is not so important as is making sure that the pieces are uniform and large. Toss the eggplant and squash in 1 1/2 to 2 T. of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread in a snug single layer on a baking sheet and transfer to a hot (425° to 450°) oven. Roast until tender and caramelized—about 25 minutes—turning once about 2/3 of the way through the roasting time.
While the vegetables roast, finish the tomato sauce. Halve the tomatoes cross-wise and coarsely grate them into a bowl or onto a plate. Discard the skin and reserve the tomato pulp—you should have about 1 3/4 cup (add water to make this amount if necessary).
When the onions are caramelized and tender, add the garlic and cook for a few moments. It should soften slightly and become fragrant. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook for a minute or two while you stir to distribute it evenly throughout the onions. Add the white wine and reduce to a glaze. Add the tomato pulp and the oregano. Season lightly with salt and pepper and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened—about 15 minutes.
When the roasted vegetables are tender and caramelized, add them to the pan of tomato sauce, along with the chickpeas, and fold gently to combine.
There will be very little excess liquid in the pan. Smooth the vegetables out into an even layer and cook at a bare simmer—occasionally stirring very gently (you don't want to break up the vegetables)—for another 20 minutes.
Alternatively, when you cook the tomato sauce, reduce it until it is very thick. Fold in the hot vegetables and the chickpeas, cover the pan and turn off the heat. Let sit for 20 minutes before serving.
To serve, reheat the vegetables if the heat has been off. If the vegetables seem dry, dribble in a bit of water. Taste and correct the seasoning and drizzle some more olive oil over the vegetables.
Serve topped with crumbles of Feta and a scattering of parsley. Basmati rice or couscous are perfect accompaniments...along with a simple salad of arugula dressed with lemon and olive oil, if you like. Serves 2 to 3 as an entrée...probably 4 to 6 as a side (it would be especially good with lamb).
Note: The above recipe is pretty much exactly as I made it the second time. The first time I reduced the sauce completely before adding the vegetables—I then left the vegetables to sit in the warm tomato sauce (covered and off of the heat) while I made the rice. I think this method helped keep the baby vegetables a bit more intact. A couple of other differences in my first rendition: I didn't add the chickpeas and I used slightly less squash and eggplant (maybe 8 to 10 oz. each)—thus needing less tomato (again, maybe 8 to 10 oz.). This version was delicious too—although much lighter...and, it only served two.
|First version--with baby eggplant and no chickpeas. Served with arugula dressed with lemon & olive oil.|