French Vegetable Soup, Ratatouille

 This French Vegetable Soup, Ratatouille, is as rustic and delicious as it is healthy and easy to make. Its flavor is built subtly from vegetables at the peak of their freshness. The dish involves no meat, no stock, no complex seasonings, and no challenging techniques. Don't be intimidated by its French origins, Ratatouille is foolproof, flexible, and amazingly, even better as a leftover. Our recipe is inspired by Anne Willan's extraordinary The Country Cooking of France. 

Life Expectancy vs. Income in American men, similar but less pronounced traits are seen among women. Source: New York Times

Life Expectancy vs. Income in American men, similar but less pronounced traits are seen among women.

Source: New York Times

Ratatouille is a traditional country stew which takes advantage of the late summer bounty of fresh tomatoes, eggplants, onions, zucchini, garlic, and peppers. This type of seasonally-driven, vegetable-based cooking has increasingly become a luxury of the well-to-do. A lack of access to fresh, healthy, home-cooked food, contributes to the poorer health and shorter life expectancy of low-income Americans.

One organization working to make fresh seasonal produce accessible is Just Harvest. Their Fresh Access program allows food stamp (SNAP) recipients to use their benefits to shop at local farmers markets -- gaining access to the fresh, affordable, and seasonal bounty of local farms. SNAP benefits help 47 million Americans (and 1 in 8 people in the Pittsburgh region) put food on the table for their families. Organizations like Just Harvest, are helping to make healthy food more accessible. Just Harvest's research has shown that 80% of SNAP shoppers increased their consumption of fresh produce when given the opportunity to shop at farmers markets. Fresh Access Coordinator Emily Schmidlapp puts it succinctly: "We believe that access to fresh, healthy, affordable food is a right and not a privilege." At the Hungry Hounds, we couldn't agree more. Bon appétit! 

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Yield: Serves 8 as a main dish

Ingredients:

Note: Vegetable quantities in this recipe are flexible 

  • 3 large onions
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2-3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 8 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds tomatoes
  • 3 medium eggplants
  • 3 medium zucchinis 
  • 4 bell peppers, seeded and cored
  • 4 bay leaves
  • parsley or basil to garnish (optional)

Steps:

  1. Wash, trim, and cut all vegetables into 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. Place eggplant and zucchini cubes in a colander over the sink and sprinkle generously with salt. Let stand for 15-30 minutes. Rinse briefly. This process reduces the bitterness of the zucchini and eggplant.
  3. Heat oil in a very large pot on medium heat. Add onions and salt, and cook for 5-10 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, coriander, and black pepper and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add all the vegetables and bay leaves, turn heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes until the vegetables are just cooked through. 
  5. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust salt as desired. Serve with parsley or basil (optional). You can serve immediately or refrigerate. The flavor does improve on day two and three, and this is a great make-ahead dish. 
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