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Farm Fresh: Ratatouille needn't be too much

Thursday, July 26, 2001

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Repeat after me: rat-tat-two-ee. That's how you say ratatouille, a robust dish from the French region of Provence. Ratatouille is a marriage of Mediterranean vegetables -- traditionally tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, onions and bell peppers well seasoned with garlic and herbs. It tastes earthy and wonderful.

Ratatouille is best described as a dish rather than a recipe. Because there are lots of ways to make it, every cook likes his or her version best. About the only agreement you're likely to get is to cook the vegetables only until they are soft, not mushy.

Aside from the olive oil, the dish is relatively innocent of calories. But because it's so easy to make, it's easy to make a lot. Dorothy Parker once proposed a definition of eternity: two people and a ham. Obviously she never went berserk at the farmers' market only later to be faced with a dutch oven full of ratatouille. After hitting on it for two days, with two quarts to go, a family can get testy.

This is a quickie recipe for two, great for a last-minute dish for an impromptu dinner. Don't double it or the result will be different and it will take longer to cook.

15-Minute Ratatouille for Two

1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 small green or yellow zucchi- ni
4 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 pound fresh tomatoes, chopped (about 3 large)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 cup tightly packed chopped basil leaves
1 small eggplant, cut into 1/4- inch cubes

In a large nonstick pan or skillet, heat the oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the zucchini, tomatoes, sugar, salt, cayenne and basil. Stir and cover. Cook for 5 minutes. Lift the lid and let the water condensation fall back into the tomatoes.

Stir the eggplant into the tomatoes. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until the eggplant is soft.

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