Ratatouille is just one of those dishes that make me happy-happy-happy. Besides having all my favorite veggies, it also has such a fun name to say: rat-a-too-ee. Doesn’t that word just make you smile? I try to make this often because I know my days of enjoying it are numbered. My mom, at not-quite-79, can’t really have nightshades anymore because they trigger gout. I suspect I will be the same by the time I get to her age. Here’s some helpful information on nightshades and nutrition.
But what’s even more fun about ratatouille, from a cook’s standpoint, is that you could almost never get it wrong. There are so many ways to prepare it — as a stew, as a casserole, sorta like a stir-fry will work too. Chop up your veggies a bit more finely and voila! You have Italian caponata. Replace the peppers with squash, add some okra and Filipino bagoong, some shrimp and some pork if you like, and you have Filipino pakbet.
This version uses roasted eggplant, which is an extra step, so you can omit it if you don’t have the time. My benchmark is Julia Child’s recipe in The Way to Cook, but this comes a close second.
1 medium-large eggplant, cut into 1 to 1 1/2 -inch cubes and tossed with ~2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Several tablespoons more extra-virgin olive oil
1 large zucchini, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 large onion, cubed or sliced thin
1 bell pepper (you can use red or green — I like red — but sometimes I use both), cubed
1 tablespoon minced garlic, or if you like, several large cloves cut into slivers/thin slices
3 large tomatoes, cubed
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 bay leaf
a few sprigs thyme
a handful of basil, chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F while you prepare the eggplant. Spread eggplant cubes evenly on parchment-lined sheet and roast, turning a few times, 15-20 minutes or until just tender, while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.
Heat large skillet (I like using my cast-iron for this) over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and when hot but not smoking, add zucchini cubes. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then just until tender but not falling apart. Remove to bowl, leaving oil behind.
Add more oil if necessary, then cook onions, letting soften a bit, before adding the peppers. When peppers and onions are tender, add garlic, stir a few more minutes until garlic is golden, then add tomatoes, salt, bay leaf and thyme. Stir well and cover, cooking ~7 minutes or so. Add eggplant and zucchini and cook 12-15 minutes more, stirring halfway to meld flavors. Adjust seasonings and serve hot. Or not! Since ratatouille is just lovely at any temp — hot, room temp, or cold, making it ideal for picnics in the summertime.
Delicious over rice, if you’re gluten-free. Or with a crisp-crusted baguette, for dipping into the veggie juices. Mmmmm.
Since ratatouille incorporates so many summer vegetables, it would make a great addition to the dinner or lunch table when celebrating some of our French saints’ summer feast days: