Ratatouille is a Provencal vegetable stew that many of you already know about, maybe from its famous portrayal in Pixar’s animated movie a few years ago. I loved the movie, but the ratatouille dish presented in the film has little resemblance to authentic Ratatouille from Provence. Instead, they depicted a tomato and zucchini tart that is often served at fancy French restaurants as an attractive side dish for grilled or roast meat to impress customers.
There are so many versions/recipes, but most importantly Ratatouille is a “summer vegetable dish” that calls for the freshest ingredients summer can offer.
Second in importance is that you need to cook each vegetable separately (eggplant, pepper and zucchini), then mix them with cooked onion, garlic and ripe tomatoes and simmer all together to finish. This takes a bit longer but preserves the best flavor and aroma of each vegetable. Otherwise, it’s going to be a mushy, messy looking stew… believe me, I sometimes do it that way even though I know I shouldn’t. But when people are hungry they can’t wait.
Another option, which I often do at home, is to cut all the vegetables into large pieces (including onion and tomatoes); place them in a large bowl; toss with olive oil, chopped garlic and salt; then grill everything. When they are easy to handle, cut the veggies into smaller pieces and put them back in the bowl. Adjust seasonings with black pepper, more olive oil and sliced or chopped fresh herbs (basil, marjoram, thyme, etc.). It seems my American friends like it this way, grilled, more than the stew.
Ratatouille can be enjoyed either hot or cold and is often taken on picnics after being thoroughly chilled, to be served between slices of baguette cut lengthwise, or used in open-faced sandwiches, like bruschetta.
Serve with a Cote du Rhone (red, white or rosé), or a simple Pinot Noir.
Ratatouille—Provencal Vegetable Stew
Serves 4-5 as a side dish
3/4 cup (10 tablespoons) good fruity olive oil, or more if needed
2 medium eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (or 4 small Japanese or Italian eggplants, with skin left on)
2 small green zucchini, cut into half-inch thick pieces
2 small yellow zucchini or summer squash, cut into half-inch pieces
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 medium onions, sliced or diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3-4 medium sized ripe tomatoes (about 1 ¼ pounds), peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
about 1cup fresh basil, or flat leaf parsley, sliced or chopped
leaves from a few sprigs of fresh marjoram or thyme (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or pot (4-5 quarts), add eggplant with a little salt, stir frequently and cook over medium-high heat about 3-4 minutes or until brown on all sides. Remove them with a slotted spoon to a large plate.
Clean the skillet with a paper towel, add 3 tablespoons olive oil and cook the zucchini and the yellow squash with a little salt until lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Remove them with slotted spoon to the plate. Repeat for the peppers.
Clean the skillet with paper towel, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and cook the red and green peppers until tender about 3-4 minutes.
Clean the skillet with paper towel, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, cook the onion and the garlic for a couple minutes until soft, then add all the cooked vegetables, the tomatoes and marjoram and thyme, and stir well until the vegetables start bubbling. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet and simmer about 5-6 minutes. Don’t overcook the vegetables. Remove from heat, add the fresh basil and transfer to a serving bowl.
1. It is not necessary to disgorge/sweat the vegetables, such as eggplant and zucchini, with salt, a practice that many recipes call for. It makes the vegetables soggy.
2. Always halve tomatoes horizontally when they will be seeded, so that you can easily remove all the seeds.