I used to go to a little seafood restaurant in Virginia that made fish that tasted unlike any I’d ever had before.
It was cooked over a wood fire, but there was more to it than that. So I asked a waiter how they prepared it. He said it was easy: They use nothing more than olive oil, lemon juice and oregano.
Ah, oregano. An herb in so many spice cabinets, but one that few people know how to use.
Some people put it in their tomato sauce for pasta, but I generally do not because I think the earthy quality of the oregano interferes with the bright tomato taste I usually want. It is a vital ingredient in a lot of Greek food — think of Greek lamb or marinated Greek chicken. And although it does not have a lot of friends, it does play very well with eggplant.
For this dish, I decided to go vegetarian — which means I went with eggplant and tomatoes. And because tomatoes go well with zucchini, and zucchini also goes well with oregano, I added a couple of them, too.
Eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini all pretty much require garlic and olive oil, so those went in as well, along with some equally necessary onion. To make it more substantial — an entree instead of a side dish — I put it all on top of pasta.
I tasted it, and it was excellent. Sublime. But also kind of familiar.
Eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, oregano, onion, garlic, olive oil: I suddenly realized that I didn’t create anything new, I just made ratatouille and stuck it on noodles.
Yield: 7 (1-cup) servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices, then each slice cut into 4 pieces
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Cooked rigatoni, penne or ziti pasta
1. In a large skillet or pot, heat oil over medium-high and add onions. Saute until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in eggplant cubes and season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt; add pepper to taste. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add zucchini and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Cover and cook until eggplant and zucchini are tender, about 7 minutes. Pour tomatoes and their juice into a large bowl and squeeze or crush with your hands. Stir tomatoes and oregano into pot. Lower temperature and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve over cooked rigatoni, penne or ziti.