Now is one of the best times of year to cook with some of the most luscious, flavorful seasonal vegetables you can find. These are the "vegetable fruit," so named because, like fruit, they contain seeds. Even though they are savory like other vegetables, you can still also taste their kinship with fruit in the naturally sweet flavors that develop as they cook.

Walk through a farmers' market right now and you'll see big piles of these vegetables in almost every stall, begging to be carried home and cooked. No wonder one of the most popular summer vegetable dishes is France's famed ratatouille, a stew of zucchini (or, as they call them there, courgettes), eggplant (aubergines), and tomatoes, along with bell peppers, onions, garlic, and fragrant herbs.

I love ratatouille. But I don't necessarily want to stand over the stove on a hot summer's day while the mixture slowly simmers. That's why I appreciate quicker ways of cooking them. In the past, I've given you my recipe for a gratin of these vegetables, thinly sliced, drizzled with olive oil, topped with cheese, and baked. But you can also cook them quickly by sauteing, as I do in the recipe I share here.

Of course, anyone who has ever tasted undercooked eggplant or zucchini will quickly point out that those vegetables, especially eggplant, can have unpleasant tastes and textures when they haven't been cooked long enough. (I'll never forget the first, and only, time I tried raw eggplant.)

The secret to sauteing them successfully is to cut them into uniform pieces small enough to cook through completely in the relatively brief time they spend in the pan -- cubes no more than 1/2 inch thick, far smaller than those for ratatouille. It also helps to start with smaller eggplants, such as the slender types sometimes called Japanese or Asian eggplants. These are more tender to begin with and have a sweeter flavor without the bitterness you find in many larger eggplants, so there's no need to salt them to draw out their juices beforehand.

The rest is easy. Cook the cubed vegetables in olive oil. Add tomatoes that you've first cored, peeled (submerge in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then cool in ice water, and the skins should come off easily with the help of a knife), and seeded. Season with a little garlic and fresh herbs of your choice.

And there you have it: a fresh-tasting, delicious summer vegetable saute that goes perfectly with grilled or sauteed meat (like the lamb featured here), poultry, or seafood. You'll find the flavors, textures, and colors so fresh, sweet, and appealing that you'll want to make it again and again, as long as these peak-of-season vegetables linger.

Sauteed Lamb With Zucchini & Eggplant

Serves 6

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 pound small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 pound organic zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes


Freshly ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 pound fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

12 medallions lamb tenderloin, well trimmed, each 3 to 4 ounces

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup organic beef or chicken broth

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Fresh tarragon leaves, for garnish

In a large, heavy saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and zucchini cubes, season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the garlic and thyme sprigs. Saute the vegetables, stirring frequently, until they are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes to the other vegetables and stir thoroughly, just until the tomatoes are heated, about 2 minutes. Taste the juices and, if necessary, add a little more salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

In a saute pan large enough to hold all the lamb without crowding, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the lamb medallions on both sides with salt and pepper and add them to the pan. Cook to the desired degree of doneness (3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare), turning once. Transfer to a warmed plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Carefully pour out the grease from the pan. Return the pan to the heat, add the white wine, and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan deposits. Continue boiling the wine until it has reduced slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the broth and chopped tarragon and continue boiling until the liquid has thickened slightly, 7 to 10 minutes. A piece at a time, whisk in the butter. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

Spoon some of the vegetable mixture onto the center of each heated serving plate. Top the vegetables with 2 pieces of lamb per plate. Spoon the sauce over and around the lamb and vegetables. Garnish with tarragon leaves and serve.


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Sauteed Lamb With Zucchini And Eggplant - Wolfgang Puck Recipes

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