Ratatouille over soft polenta
1 hour, 45 minutes, plus draining time for the eggplant
Adapted from a recipe by Teresa Fanucchi in "A Place at the Table." Any leftover polenta can be spread into a square glass baking dish, covered and refrigerated. For a breakfast treat, cut it into thin slices and fry in olive oil. Serve with eggs and fresh tomato slices.
2 large eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoons kosher or other coarse salt
4 tomatoes, cored
2 large zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cleaned of seeds and ribs, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Freshly ground back pepper
1. In a large bowl, toss eggplant with salt and transfer to a large colander. Place the colander over the bowl just used and set aside for 45 minutes to 1 hour to allow the salt to extract water and bitterness from the eggplant. When the excess water is extracted, use paper towels to wipe off as much salt as possible from the eggplant and set aside the eggplant.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place one oven rack in the upper third of the oven and another in the lower third.
3. In a large bowl, toss the eggplant and zucchini with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Divide the vegetables between 2 large baking sheets, spreading them in a single, uncrowded layer on each sheet. Roast until well browned and tender, about 45 minutes. (Stir the vegetables every 15 minutes and rotate the baking sheets, top to bottom.)
4. While the vegetables are roasting, peel the tomatoes: Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, then remove from heat. Place the cored tomatoes in the water for about a minute to loosen their skins. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and set on a plate to cool. Peel the tomatoes and cut them into chunks.
5. In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes. Add roasted eggplant and zucchini, stirring gently to combine. Stir in the fresh herbs and add three-fourths teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper, or to taste. Cover with a lid and simmer on low for 30 minutes, then remove from heat. While the vegetables cook, make the polenta.
Polenta and final assembly
6 cups water
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
Grated Parmesan cheese
1. In a saucepan, bring to a boil 6 cups of water, the butter and salt. Add the cornmeal gradually, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, continuing to whisk to prevent lumps from forming. Once the cornmeal has started to thicken and absorb the water, continue to cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. (A wooden spoon is traditionally used.) The mixture will become very thick. When done, remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
2 To serve, spoon a portion of soft polenta on each plate and place a generous amount of ratatouille atop this. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.