Ratatouille Nicoise (version II)

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and quartered
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 bouquet garni, made up of celery, leek, rosemary, thyme, 1/2 bay leaf, oregano and basil
vegetable oil
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 red peppers, halved, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch dice
1 green pepper, halved, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch dice
3/4 pound zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch slices
12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, add the onion and half the garlic, and sweat over medium heat for 5 minutes, until soft. Stir in the tomato paste, reduce the heat, and cook for 2 -3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and sugar and add the bouquet garni. Cook over low heat for 10 - 15 minutes, stirring, until thickened.

In a large skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of the vegetable oil. Cook the eggplant over medium heat for 5 - 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden. Add more oil if needed. Drain.

Heat a little more vegetable oil in the same pan and add the peppers. Cook over low heat for 8 - 10 minutes, stirring, until tender, then drain. Finally, add a little more oil to the pan and cook the zucchini for about 2 minutes on either side until tender and golden. Drain in the colander.

Add the vegetables to the tomato mixture. Season lightly and transfer to a large, ovenproof dish. Cover and bake in a 375F oven for 10 - 15 minutes.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a small pan with the remaining garlic and the basil and cook for a few seconds until the basil is wilted. Remove the ratatouille from the oven. Discard the bouquet garni, then stir in the garlic and basil oil. Adjust the seasoning and serve hot.

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