After having canned an industrial quantity of tomato jam last week, I moved to my favorite canned dish of all times – summer squash stew. The tricky truth about preserving this stew for winter is that, no matter how much you cook, the chances of it surviving until winter are extremely low (at least in our household it hasn’t lasted longer than a week!) Another fun fact about this recipe is that what my grandma used to call as simply as “summer squash stew” and has been cooking for ages in a humble Belarusian kitchen is in fact commonly known as ratatouille – one of the finest French Provençal stewed vegetable dishes that originated in Nice. I am sure she would be much entertained with the fact that she has been unintentionally cultivating my love for Provençal cuisine since I was little.
Ratatouille is yet another example of how many similarities European cuisines have, with mild variation of common proteins, fats, herbs and spices. In her Belarusian version of ratatouille, my grandma is using summer squash, but I equally enjoy a more traditional recipe with eggplants. For herbs, I am only using parsley as I find the flavors of other herbs overpowering against the delicate summer squash taste. However, if you disagree, go on and throw a few sprigs of thyme or rosemary in your pot.
Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: 1 hour | Serves: 4
1 to 1/2 lb summer squash
6 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch triangles
2 tsp sweet paprika
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp tomato paste
5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tsp salt
1 cup filtered water
Freshly milled pepper
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Sterilize jars for canning as described in Step 1 of my tomato jam recipe.
Cut the summer squash lengthwise in half, then slice it into half-rounds about 1/3 inch thick. In a wide sauté pan or skillet, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add the summer squash and stir. Cook turning the pieces often until golden, about 10 minutes.
In a Dutch oven, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and paprika and sauté until the onion is lightly brown, 8 to 10 minutes. During the last few minutes, add the garlic and the tomato paste.
Add the tomatoes, summer squash, 1 cup water, salt and pepper to the Dutch oven. Scrape up the browned residues from the bottom of the Dutch oven. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chopped parsley.
While still hot, remove the ratatouille and transfer to the sterilized jars. Submerge the filled jars in a boiling water bath for about 15 minutes. Cool and store in the refrigerator or cellar.
This summer squash stew is delicious when served hot right after it is cooked. However, it is equally tasty if served at a room temperature, so there is no need to reheat it after you open up a jar of this ratatouille preserved in your cellar or fridge.
It can be served as a side dish to meat or fish entrées or as a vegetarian entrée by itself. One of my favorite uses of it, however, is to roast it together with pieces of monkish for about 30 minutes – a very quick yet elegant style of preparation of white fish.