french restaurants are not at all known for their vegetarian fare. i had a really tough time when i lived in france and i usually avoid going to french restaurants because they don't bother to create anything beyond the oh-so-boring plat végétal. it was only when my friend radhika who lives in san francisco, presented me a delightful cookbook called "the vegetarian table, france" by georgeanne brennan that i was introduced to the wonderful world of vegetarian french cuisine.
i love a summer vegetable stew recipe called ratatouille which comes from the south of france. it can be served on its own (either hot or cold depending on the season and whether as a first course or main) or used as a topping for crepes or canneloni. when i have a lot of leftovers, i'll mix it up with some cooked penne and parmesan.
we cooked a big batch of ratatouille this weekend from zucchini, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and basil picked from the vegetable garden of our host's home. i was dying to visit a farmer's market in the nearby village but i ended up sleeping late on saturday morning (we didn't arrive till 2 am the previous night thanks to our delayed BA flight from gatwick to nantes) so missed the golden opportunity.
here's georgeanne brennan's recipe which you can adjust depending on the fresh herbs and vegetables you have on hand. i'm not a huge zucchini fan so i tend to use a lot more of the other vegetables like peppers, tomatoes and eggplant.
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 medium-sized yellow onions, chopped
2 medium-sized eggplants, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 medium-sized zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 large green, red, or yellow sweet peppers, seeded, deribbed, and cut into 1-inch squares
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3 1/2 to 4 pounds ripe tomatoes (10 to 12 medium sized), peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil
in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. just as it begins to smoke, reduce the hear to medium-low and add the garlic and onions. saute until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. add the eggplants, stir well, and saute, stirring and turning until well coated with oil and slightly softened, another 4 or 5 minutes.
add the thyme, bay leaf, tomatoes, salt, and black pepper. stir and turn another 2 or 3 minutes, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and have blended together, about 40 minutes.
stir in the basil and remove from the heat. transfer to a serving dish and serve hot, at room temperature, or cold.ps - remember that the ratatouille will be only as tasty as the fresh vegetables so don't skimp on the quality of the produce you use!