Around this time each year, we start to dread the eggplant. If cooked to absolute perfection, we find it just tolerable. And we don't know how to cook it to perfection. A few weeks ago, an early specimen came in our farm box, just after our daughter learned that she actually liked eggplant parm from a couple different restaurants. I tried my hand at it, using a salt-and-drain method so it would not be too soggy. I actually got it TOO dry and way to salty! It was passable but not scrumptious.
Weapons-Grade Ratatouille would not do it for me, nothing would! Besides, she had gotten the recipe from a recent installment of radio's best cooking show, Lynne Rossetto Kaspar's The Splendid Table. (For a no-cost, no-fat culinary indulgence, just listen to this radio program some time!)
I looked at the recipe at least a dozen times before preparing it, partly to assess the ingredients list and partly to brace myself for the battle to come! I was put in mind of Lori Petty in the 1995 cult classic Tank Girl. Was I up to the challenge? Would this end up being just another stew, or would it live up to the bold adjectives Francis Lam ladles on the recipe as posted in Salon?
By working almost entirely with local ingredients (substituting fat, local scallions for the leeks and dried thyme for fresh), and cooking the pureed peppers and tomatoes even longer than Lam suggested, I think I made a very decent first showing. Because of my teaching schedule today, I completed steps 1-3 around noontime, and started on step 4 almost four hours later. Even with the convection oven, it took a while to get the small-dice eggplant and squash as brown as I wanted, but it was worth the wait.
The result was a very satisfying contrast of flavors and textures, especially when topped with just a sprinkling of extra-sharp Vermont cheese.
As I readied myself for this endeavor, being only familiar with the dish in vague terms related to the Disney film of the same name, Pam mentioned that the witty, delightful, and famously rotund children's author Daniel Pinkwater had mentioned this dish as part of his weight-loss program. Indeed, it is the second step of a three-step program by which he lost roughly 50 pounds. He offers a flexible recipe, but I will stick with Mr. Lam's version, as Mr. Pinkwater combines two words that I never like to see in the same sentence: "eggplant" and "soft." Other than that, I'm going to be doing my best to take his advice!