Ratatouille is an unsurpassed bit of culinary magic, perfectly timed for the height of summer's harvest. This side dish transforms sun-ripened tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and eggplant into a sparkling reminder of its native Provence, France.

But classic ratatouille requires more than the wave of a wand or a wooden spoon. Julia Child, as she instructs in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, cooks each vegetable separately to create this ultimate in Mediterranean casseroles. Elizabeth David, the English writer who introduced most Britons and adventurous American cooks back in the 1950s to Mediterranean cooking, uses a simpler, one-pot approach but simmers it slowly in oil. Lots of oil. Far more of it than even olive oil enthusiasts would want in today's health-conscious dishes.

Ratatouille also raises a different problem. Eggplant does not sit well with everyone. Even people who do like it can find it challenging to prepare. With frustrating unpredictability, it can taste bitter, have too many annoying seeds, or a tough skin. And as it cooks, eggplant also absorbs oil at an alarming rate.

To keep kitchen time brief and make a popular but lean ratatouille, I add an American Southwest accent. This is not as heretical as it might seem. The tomatoes, squash and peppers on which ratatouille is based are native to the Americas, and the poblano pepper, tomatillos and corn that I include add tangy but sweet, earthy undertones. This sunny ratatouille is so robust you probably will not notice that the eggplant has magically disappeared.

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Southwestern Ratatouille

Yield: Makes 6 servings.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 medium red onion, cut in thin crescents
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips
  • 1 medium poblano pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels or kernels of 1 fresh ear of corn
  • 1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise in 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash, quartered
  • lengthwise and cut crosswise in 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice
  • 2 medium tomatillos, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Ingredients:

  1. Heat oil in deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and sautÚ until translucent, about 2 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook until onion is soft, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, yellow bell and poblano peppers. SautÚ until peppers soften slightly, about 4 minutes. Add corn, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes and juice. Simmer until peppers are tender but still slightly firm, about 8 minutes. Add tomatillos and cook until vegetables are soft but still retain their shape, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature. This ratatouille tastes better the next day. It keeps 5 days if stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Per serving:
91 calories,
3 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
15 g. carbohydrate,
3 g. protein,
3 g. dietary fiber,
80 mg. sodium.

Diabetic Exchanges:
3 Vegetable, 1/2 Fat


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