Ratatouille (version XVIII)

2 pounds (2 large or 4 smallish) eggplant
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
6 large garlic cloves, peeled (4 minced, 2 pressed or pureed with 1/4 teaspoon salt)
1 large red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large green pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
kosher or coarse salt to taste
1 1/2 pounds (about 3 medium) zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced about 1/2 inch thick
4 large or 6 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 to 4 tablespoons slivered fresh basil leaves

Set the oven to 450 degrees.

Grease a baking sheet with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Using a chef's knife, cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, cutting right through the stem. With the tip of the knife, make an incision down the length of the cut side of each half. Don't cut through the skin, but get as close to it as you can. Place on the baking sheet cut side down and bake in the hot oven until the skins shrivel and the edges are browning, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a colander cut side down. Cool in the sink where the eggplant will release some of the juice.

When cool enough to handle, cut the halves in half lengthwise along the score line. Peel the skin and cut into 3/4-inch cubes. Set aside.

Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Oil a large casserole with a lid. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring. Add half the minced garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, or until the onions begin to color. Transfer to the prepared casserole and set aside.

In the same sauté pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and cook the peppers over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add salt to taste and continue to cook, stirring often, until softened. Add the zucchini and the remaining minced garlic, and continue to cook until the zucchini looks translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to the casserole along with the eggplant, half the tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, crushed coriander seeds, and 1 teaspoon of coarse salt. Stir to combine, cover, and bake for 30 minutes.

Stir the ratatouille and continue to cook, covered, for 30 minutes more. Add the remaining tomatoes and the pureed garlic, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Continue to cook for 30 minutes. Add the basil, cover, and return to the oven. Turn off the heat and leave the ratatouille in the oven for another hour.

Place a colander over a bowl and transfer the ratatouille to the colander. Allow the juices to drain from the ratatouille into the bowl. Transfer the juices to a small saucepan and return the ratatouille to the casserole. Heat the juices to a boil. Reduce by half and stir back into the casserole. Adjust the seasoning. Serve hot or cold. For best results, cool and refrigerate overnight. Let it come to room temperature or heat before serving the next day.

Serves 6.

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