Ratatouille Is a Versatile Entree

Shaw is a free-lance writer in Los Angeles.

Ratatouille is ideal for the undisciplined cook, since it doesn't involve adhering to a formula. By definition, the dish calls for eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and olive oil, but proportions and seasoning are a matter of whim. What's more, the dish can be sauteed, stewed or even baked in a terrine, as follows, then sliced and served warm with soup or salad, or chilled, in a sandwich.

RATATOUILLE TERRINE

1 large bunch collard greens

2 medium zucchini

4 Japanese eggplants

Salt

2 shallots, minced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large sweet red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1 large yellow pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled

2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups fine dry bread crumbs

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup cottage cheese

1/4 cup milk

3 eggs, lightly beaten

Cut away stems from collard leaves. Wash greens thoroughly. Steam leaves until bright green, about 2 minutes. Remove carefully from steamer and set aside.

Slice zucchini and eggplants into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Place in colander and season to taste with salt. Let drain 40 minutes.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in large skillet. Saute shallots and garlic over low heat until shallots are tender and translucent. Add peppers and saute until tender. With slotted spoon or spatula, transfer mixture to bowl.

Pat zucchini and eggplants dry. Add remaining 1/4 cup olive oil to skillet. Saute zucchini and eggplants until tender. Return shallot and pepper mixture to skillet. Stir in tomatoes, basil, oregano, fennel seeds and season to taste with pepper. Cook uncovered over low heat, until most of liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Line bottom of lightly buttered 8x4-inch loaf pan with collard leaves, allowing leaves to overlap enough to encase filling. Sprinkle bottom with 1/3 bread crumbs and 1/3 cheese. Top with half of vegetable mixture. Cover vegetables with another layer of bread crumbs and cheese, then repeat, layering final portion of vegetables with last of bread crumbs and cheese.

Puree cottage cheese with food processor or hand beater. Beat in milk and eggs. Slowly and evenly, pour mixture over layered vegetables. Fold collard leaves over to encase filling, using additional reserved leaves to cover gaps.

Cover terrine with foil. Place in larger baking pan, adding enough hot water to come halfway up side of loaf pan.

Bake at 350 degrees 2 hours, checking water level often. Let cool on rack at least 15 minutes before inverting on platter to serve. Or chill and serve cold. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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