Laurie Colwin was a beloved American food writer and novelist who produced two delightful essay collections devoted to her kitchen thoughts and adventures: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. My wonderful friend Kate sent them both to me years ago and they remain favourite comfort reads. One of the essays is amusingly titled "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant," something I frequently am, and was last night.
Two eggplants, in fact, which I chose to transform into a sort of kitchen-sink vegetable ragu - a riff on ratatouille, eggplant parmesan, and caponata, incorporating the things I like most about all three. Soft, rich vegetables; hits of salt, spice, and sweetness; a velvety mouthfeel; and a warm, deep, comforting flavour that is perfect for the dark, sad, letdown of a month that January can be. But take heart, friends: at 5:15 p.m. today, the sky still held some light. There is hope, and until the long bright evenings are back, there is always eggplant. (With carbs. Don't forget the carbs.)
Eggplant ragu (Homage to Laurie Colwin)
1/4 cup olive oil
Two medium eggplants, peeled and diced into 1/2" chunks
Three bell peppers (any colour except green)
One fat clove garlic, minced
One can diced tomatoes (28 oz)
One large handful black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
6-8 pickled cherry peppers, drained and roughly chopped
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2-3 tbsp sugar or to taste
Heat oil in a dutch oven and saute eggplant and peppers ten minutes, salting liberally, until softened and beginning to cook down. Add garlic and toss 2 min. Add tomatoes, olives, cherry peppers, balsamic, basil, and sugar. Bring to a low boil and them simmer, covered, 30 min or until eggplant are soft. Peppers should retain a little bite. Simmer uncovered an additional ten minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve liberally over pasta or (my preference) creamy polenta with butter and Parmesan cheese. We had some herb-roasted chicken alongside, which was just perfect, but it would be great next to braised short ribs or pork too.