I made a trip to the Emporia Farmer’s Market last week and Wanda Meyers had some really cute, equally-sized, rotund onions, yellow squash, zucchini and eggplants. It was obvious to me: ratatouille!
As they say on the infomercials: “But wait: there’s more!” I still had some ricotta to use up, and a couple of duck eggs. That sounded more like lasagna or moussaka. Time to experiment.
What I ended up with was a tasty vegetarian casserole that I think anyone can enjoy, as a main dish or as a side to protein. Let’s get cooking!
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While not absolutely necessary, part of the joy of making this dish is to layer the equally-sized, thinly-sliced vegetables. There is a sense of order, a colorful pattern, and an equalization of flavors.
I use a mandoline to slice the vegetables incredibly thin — around one-eighth of an inch. However, you can slice them with a knife, a quarter-inch thick, you can cube them, as long as they will cook through in about the same time, One-inch cubes of eggplant will not play well with half-inch cubes of squash.
The vegetables will be the bottom of the dish, with seasoned tomatoes in the middle and a thick, cheesy top layer. Use a casserole dish with a lid; this serves four.
2 small eggplants
2 yellow squashes
2 small onions
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 (28-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 large eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
Salt and white pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, for garnish.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash the vegetables (peel the onion first) and then slice as thin as you can into rounds.
Starting at the edge of the casserole, layer the slices in the same alternating order. For example, squash, onion, zucchini, eggplant; squash, onion, zucchini, eggplant. Go all around the edge then start filling in the middle. Cover with a damp paper towel while you make the sauce.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat. Briefly sauté the garlic, then add the crushed tomatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper and the herbs. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes. I will admit to adding a dash of red wine at this point.
The topping is prepared in two steps. Whisk the milk, eggs and ricotta cheese together in a bowl; set aside.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Lower heat; gradually pour in the milk and cheese mixture, whisking constantly until it thickens. Season with salt and white pepper, nutmeg, and then add the cup of grated Parmesan, stirring just until melted.
Back to the casserole dish: remove the paper towel. Pour the sauce over the vegetables. Pour the topping over the sauce and use a spatula to smooth it out.
Put the lid on the casserole and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the lid, sprinkle the last half-cup of Parmesan over the top and return to the heat without lid for another 10 to 15 minutes to brown up the top and allow any excess moisture to escape.
The casserole should rest about 10 minutes before serving. It will cut like a lasagna, and is great with some fresh, rustic bread.
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There are food trucks popping up all over, which is nice when you want to eat out without constantly looking over your shoulder to see if everyone is being safe during the pandemic. These are the ones I am aware of.
Thursdays, the Flint Hills Technical College Fusion truck is serving; see their plans and menus on Facebook.
The Gustoso truck featuring Italian dishes is open Wednesdays – Sundays when Mulready’s Pub is open, in the alley at 717 Commercial St.
September 26 there is a Food Truck Food-A-Palooza at Flinthills Mall — all I know is 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at this point.
And most, if not all, of our local restaurants offer carry-out or curbside service; so let’s support them, Emporia. Keep up the good work!