Thursday, May 30, 2013

Summer Slow Cooker Ratatouille

The weather in Chicago has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride lately.  Stormy then dry. Hot and sticky one day, coat-worthy the next. Typical Chicago spring I guess but its still a bit hard to keep up.
We've gone from this:

To this (notice the jackets) in a matter of days:

When the weather is gorgeous (and a tad on the hot and sticky side), the last thing I want to do is turn on the oven. When the temperature inevitably drops back down into the 50s, turning on the oven is less of a problem but I'm still left looking for something easy, healthy and just-a-little-bit summery for dinner.

Luckily, I think I've finally found a recipe that fits all of those scenarios and uses the slow cooker to boot (no need to use the oven!). I'm always, always a fan of the slow cooker, especially for recipes that make use of it during the warmer months. Most of my existing slow cooker recipes lean toward the winter season, so this one is a nice change and a great option for using summer produce once farmer's market (and gardening) season gets into full swing.

Ratatouille is kind of like a cross between a marinara sauce, a sauteed veggie dish and a vegetable stew of sorts. Its hearty and light all at once. It uses a ton of summery vegetables like eggplant, squash and peppers but its usually a surprisingly easy sell to children-- the similarity to spaghetti sauce and the popularity of the animated film of the same name help in that area. For this version I used canned tomatoes but once our garden shifts into high gear I'd like to try it again with fresh.

JiT and I enjoyed this paired with goat cheese polenta but Lillian preferred hers tossed with pasta. To each their own.

Heading into the warmer months, if you're looking for a way to use up a bumper crop of summer veggies or you just want to dust off the 'ole slow cooker and avoid the oven, this is a great option.

Do you have any summertime slow cooker favorites? If so, spill it.

Summer Slow Cooker Ratatouille 
Serves 4

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
1 red pepper, cored and cut into pieces
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons butter
1 small can tomato paste
1 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 large or 2 small eggplants, peeled and sliced into chunks
1 zuchinni or crookneck squash, diced into chunks

4 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped, plus more for garnishing
Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy sautee pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, red pepper and garlic and cook until vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add butter, flour and tomato and stir to until evenly combined, cooking for about 1 minute. Next add the tomatoes and their juices and the thyme leaves. Stir to combine, using the back of a spoon to gently crush the tomatoes into the mixture. Continue cooking over medium heat for about 6 more minutes then transfer to the slow cooker. Toss the sauce mixture gently with the eggplant and squash. Cover and cook on low heat for 4 to 5 hours, until vegetables are tender.

To serve, add butter, parmesan cheese and basil leaves and stir until butter and cheese are melted and mixture is evenly combined. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper (you'll need a generous amount of salt). Serve with cheesy polenta, pasta or warm, crusty bread.

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