August and September are high-season months for the Mediterranean Magic Five: eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and onions. Throw in a handful of sun-loving herbs, and that means prime time for a classic dish, ratatouille.
Some like it cooked on top of the stove and soupy. Some like it oven-baked as a stew. Either way, it is usually served as a side dish.
I like my ratatouille vegetables roasted, on the dry side and served front and center, the star of a vegetarian dinner. Roasting shrinks the veggies and keeps their shapes intact while concentrating their flavors.
Roasted ratatouille can be scattered over pizza, heaped on toasted naan, added to quiche or stuffed into a pita. The last spoonfuls could go into an omelet.
And for a maximum of pizzazz and a minimum of fuss, make a professional-looking, savory warm tart. Bake a puff-pastry base (recipe online), then shortly before serving, top it with the roasted vegetables, sprinkle with cheese and run it under the broiler for a few minutes. Cool a bit, then cut into squares and pass.
Roasted Ratatouille Filling
Chop vegetables, mix them with herbs and seasonings and roast. When cool, combine with cheeses and more herbs, and spread onto a tart base. That's the short version. Here's the complete version.
2 small zucchini (1 green, 1 yellow), cut into half-moons
1/2 large yellow onion, cut into 3/4-inch dice
1/2 large red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 small Japanese eggplants (or 1 small regular eggplant), about 10 ounces total, cut into half-moons (or 3/4-inch dice)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped, OR a good pinch of pepper flakes
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme leaves
1 teaspoon finely chopped oregano leaves
About 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
About 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 pound (12 ounces) Roma or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
4 fresh sage leaves
Several small thyme and oregano sprigs
1/4 cup coarsely chopped black olives, such as kalamata
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup finely shredded fontina cheese
3 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon finely grated parmesan cheese
Cream Cheese Tart Pastry (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Adjust oven racks to accommodate 2 baking trays. In a large bowl, toss zucchini, onion, pepper, eggplant, jalapeno (or pepper flakes) and garlic with thyme, oregano, 3/4 teaspoon salt, pepper and 1/4 cup oil. Spread veggies in a single layer on rimmed baking pan.
Line another rimmed baking pan with parchment paper, and place tomatoes, cut side down, on sheet. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and scatter with sage and herb sprigs.
Roast vegetables and tomatoes until veggies are slightly brown and tender and tomatoes are somewhat scorched and soft, 30 to 40 minutes.
Prepare Cream Cheese Tart Pastry according to recipe.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Toss tomatoes into a bowl. Using scissors, snip them into even pieces. Add roasted vegetables, olives, basil, 1/2 cup fontina and 3 tablespoons parmesan.
Mound about 3/4 cup vegetable mixture in the center of each of four tart shells; spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining fontina and parmesan. Bake tartlets until golden, about 35 minutes, switching pan positions halfway through.
Serve warm or at room temperature scattered with oregano sprigs. Makes 4 tarts.
-- Sunset Magazine
Cream Cheese Tart Pastry
Cream cheese pastry is rich, with a slightly tangy flavor. Because it's not the most sturdy of crusts, the dough is a good choice for smaller pastries such as tarts, hand pies and turnovers. It's also really easy to work with. This tart crust recipe comes from Annie Somerville, chef at San Francisco's Greens Restaurant. It combines flour with a bit of masa harina, which is the dried corn flour used for making tortillas. That very creative combination makes for a toasty, corn flavor in this super-easy tart crust. Find masa harina at Reyna in the Strip District or in the Mexican section of a supermarket. And yes, the seemingly lopsided proportion of flour to fats in the recipe is correct.
1 cup flour, plus more for the board
1/4 cup masa harina
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
8-ounce package cold cream cheese, Philadelphia brand preferred
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
In food processor, whirl 1 cup flour, masa harina and salt to blend. Add butter and pulse until crumbly. Add cream cheese in small pieces and whirl until dough comes together. (If you have a small-size processor, it may balk at volume. In that case, transfer flour-butter mixture to large bowl and work in cream cheese using spatula.)
Shape dough into a 3-inch thick log. Cut in half crosswise to make 2 disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill at least one hour and up to 3 days.
On a lightly floured board, roll each disk into a 7-inch round. Lay the 4 rounds on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Roll the edge of each dough round over onto itself to make a thick rim. Whisk the egg with a teaspoon of water. Brush the rims with the egg wash.
Add roasted ratatouille filling to each and bake (as directed above) in a preheated 375-degree oven.
Makes 4 7-inch tarts.
-- Sunset Magazine
Puff Pastry Tart
1 package of frozen puff pastry, thawed, but cold.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set a rack in the mid-level. Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit a baking sheet with sides but place it on a work surface. Lightly dust with flour. Unfold the pastry and roll out into a rectangle to fit the pan, patting seams together if necessary. Transfer both paper and dough to the baking sheet.
Using the tines of a fork, poke the pastry all over; this prevents bubbles. Bake until firm and golden brown all over. Remove from the oven and cool. Make the pastry ahead and keep in a cool, dry place for 4 to 6 hours.
About half an hour or so before serving, add (ratatouille or other) topping and dust with grated cheese. Broil until the cheese browns. Let cool a bit before cutting into squares for serving. Makes about 8 to 10 pieces.
-- Marlene Parrish
Marlene Parrish: firstname.lastname@example.org.