Making the most of summer vegetables

Last summer cuisine is definitely my favorite. I love the taste of vegetables and fruits picked at the peak of flavor.

If you have a vegetable garden, you probably have an abundance of tomatoes and zucchini about now.

One of the easiest ways to use them up is by making a summer vegetable stew, such as ratatouille, which was invented in the French Riviera town of Nice.

Chefs disagree about how to make ratatouille. Traditionally, vegetables are sauteed separately, layered in a dish, covered with sauce and baked in the oven. That’s the way Julia Child insisted upon. The accompanying recipe, which comes from a restaurant in the French Riviera town of St. Tropez, just a ways from Nice, follows a streamlined process. It’s faster, easier and just as good as the baked version.

RATATOUILLE DU MAZAGRAN

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

2 banana shallots, or 5-6 regular shallots, diced

Large bunch fresh basil

4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced

4 teaspoons unsalted butter

4 zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 can plum tomatoes

2 eggplants, sliced 3/8-inch thick

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped

2¼ cups cherry tomatoes, halved

Sea salt and black pepper

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat, add the shallots and cook until translucent. Cut the stems off the basil, finely chop them and add to the pan. Once the basil stems have softened, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the butter and zucchini, stirring well, then add the tomatoes and 1 ¼ cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 1½ hours to thicken and reduce. Taste and season with some salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Place the eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Set aside for 10 minutes and pat dry with paper towels. Put the eggplant and squash on one sheet pan, keeping them apart, and the cherry tomatoes on the other. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Toss the squash in the paprika. Roast the tomatoes for 20-30 minutes or until shriveled and sweet. Roast the eggplant and squash for about 40 minutes or until soft and golden.

Once the sauce has simmered, add the roasted vegetables to the pan along with the cherry tomatoes. Roughly tear the basil leaves and toss them into the ratatouille just before serving. Taste and adjust the seasoning if need. This is still fantastic a couple of days later.

Our assessment: Bursting with flavors, ratatouille is always one of my favorite summer dishes to make. I’ve never come across a recipe that calls for shallots and butternut squash, which add a pleasant sweetness as well as more color to the dish. With flavors that improve after being refrigerated for a day, this ratatouille is great as leftovers. Consider using it as filling for an omelet.

From the book: “The South of France Cookbook: Recipes and stories from St. Tropez” by Nina Parker; 256 pages, $35. Published by Weldon Owen, 2016.

What you get: This cookbook is a labor of love by a British chef/caterer who spent her summers growing up in the French Riviera town of St. Tropez, only about 60 miles from Nice, where ratatouille was invented. Recipes cover meals, teatime, drinks and canapes, and desserts. All the dishes look sumptuous and call for fresh ingredients. Many of the dishes are inspired by off-the-beaten-path restaurants where the locals eat.

In her own words: “I am passionate about the Riviera type of cooking: strong, fresh flavors and colorful food that is, above all, utterly delicious.” — Nina Parker

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ABOUT THIS FEATURENew cookbooks flood the market every week. This feature will help you make sense of what’s new and what’s worth trying out. Email your questions and ideas to connie.post@coxinc.com

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