Ratatouille, stovetop version

Ratatouille
Yield: 3 quarts / 12 cups

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions (1 lb.), diced large
1 head garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
1 large eggplant (1 lb.), cut into 1-inch cubes
2 large zucchini (1 lb.), diced large

2 bell peppers (1 red, 1 yellow), diced large
1 can (28-ounces) whole peeled tomatoes
16 pitted Kalamata olives, sliced in half (or more)
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon basil pesto
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar

To finish:
Capers, rinsed
Thin slivers of basil leaves
Slices of kalamata olives

In a large skillet, cook the onion and the garlic in 2 tablespoons of the oil over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and heat it over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add the eggplant and cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is softened. Stir in the zucchini and the bell peppers and cook the mixture over the moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until they are tender. Stir in the tomatoes and olives and cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the bay leaf, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the basil pesto and herbes de Provence and combine the mixture well. Continue cooking, if needed, until the vegetable juices have reduced and thickened. Stir in balsamic vinegar and cook until the flavors have balanced and melded.

Finish with slivers of basil, a few capers, and more kalamata olives.

Serve with some crusty sourdough bread, or over polenta, or add a poached egg, or prawns, or fish.

Ratatouille may be made 1 day in advance, kept covered and chilled, and reheated before serving.