Ratatouille Casserole (version II)

nonstick cooking spray
1/2 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1/3 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound zucchini, washed and trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoons herbes de provence or italian seasoning (see note)
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cored, cut into thin strips
2 (16-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained, or fresh tomatoes (see note)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Spray a 2 1/2-quart casserole or gratin dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Bring 8 cups water to boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add rice and boil, uncovered, for 8 minutes. Drain and run cold water over rice to stop cooking; drain again.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large deep skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic until onion is transparent. Add eggplant and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and cook, uncovered, on medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in salt, herbes de Provence, bell pepper strips, tomatoes, parsley, basil and black pepper. Stir to combine; taste and add additional salt or more minced basil if needed.

Place a third of the ratatouille mixture in the bottom of the prepared casserole. Top with half the rice. Top with half the remaining ratatouille and layer on remaining rice. Top with remaining ratatouille and pour the broth over it. Can be made to this point up to two days in advance; cover and refrigerate. (Add 5 minutes to the baking time if casserole is cold.)

To bake, cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour. Remove foil and sprinkle Parmesan cheese over top. Bake 20 to 30 minutes longer. To brown, place under preheated broiler for about 1 minute, watching carefully to keep it from burning.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Note: Herbes de Provence is a seasoning mixture that is available in most supermarkets. If you can't find it, use an Italian herb mixture. To substitute fresh tomatoes, peel 2 to 3 large tomatoes, core, cut in half and squeeze out the seeds. You'll need about 3 cups diced fresh tomatoes.

Makes 8 servings.

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