For most, the name of this dish evokes dreams of animated rodents scurrying around a Parisian restaurant kitchen. In reality though, ratatouille is a French stewed vegetable dish from the seaside city of Nice. I make my version with zucchini (courgette in French), eggplant (aubergine), olives, capers, bell peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes. With the exception of the tomatoes, everything is fresh. I prefer canned tomatoes in this dish because they tend to be sweeter (especially during the winter season).
Given the abundance of fresh vegetables, this dish would be perfect for the summer. In fact, I make it often when the vegetables in my garden ripen. I also like it in the winter though, because it's excellent comfort food. The flavor of the veggies marries wonderfully with the herbs and spices. My family always ends up fighting over the "broth" at the bottom of the bowl.
Ratatouille can be eaten with just about anything. Crusty bread and rice are common options, but my personal favorite delivery device is a savory crêpe. However it makes it to your mouth though, you'll be happy it did!
Servings: 8 servings
2 green zucchini
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 yellow zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1/3 cup olive oil, as needed
3 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 sprig thyme
2 shallots, sliced
1 Portobello mushroom, diced
1/2 cup crimini mushrooms, diced
1 cup orange vine sweet mini peppers (I buy them at Costco), cut in thirds
2 canned plum tomatoes, diced
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/4 cup sweet basil leaves
2 tablespoons curly parsley, chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons sea salt (or regular salt)
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1/2 cup parmesan, freshly shredded
Caramelizing the onions and shallots: Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pan. Add the sprig of thyme. Fry the onions and shallots in the oil over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the onion from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown. Transfer to a platter.
For the mushrooms: In the same pan, there should still be oil from the caramelized onions (add more if necessary). Add the garlic, cook until slightly golden and add diced mushrooms. Toss frequently and cook for about 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of curly parsley. Transfer to a platter with the juice.
Prepping the zucchini and eggplants:
Trim both kinds of zucchini and cut lengthwise into ½-inch-thick slices. Layer a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet (to collect all the excess moisture). Place the zucchini slices on the rack. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and let sit for about 20 minutes. Trim eggplants and cut lengthwise into 1-inch cubes. I peeled the eggplants (but if you like, you can skip this step). Repeat the same procedure as the zucchini: Layer a cooling rack, place the eggplant slices and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Pat dry using paper towels.
For the zucchini: Brush the pan with more olive oil. Lightly coat the zucchini slices using a silicone brush. Place the slices on the pan. Cook until nicely seared and golden (about 4 minutes on each side) over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a platter with the juice.
For the eggplant: Brush the pan with more olive oil. Lightly coat the eggplant chunks using a silicone brush. Place the eggplant pieces on the pan. Cook until nicely seared and golden (about 5-6 minutes on each side) over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a platter with the juice.
For the bell peppers: Wash the bell peppers, pat dry, then brush with oil. Place a grill on your stove, then char all the skin of the bell pepper. Wrap in aluminum foil. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Wash under running tap water; the skin will come right off. Seed and dice the pepper. Set aside.
Prepping the basil: Stack the basil leaves, roll them and cut into thin ribbons. Set aside.
Assembly time: In the pan, add more olive oil (if needed), add the onions, shallots and sliced sweet mini peppers. Cook until tender and golden. Combine the zucchini, eggplant and bell peppers with all the juice from sweating the vegetables. Add the plum tomatoes and herbes de Provence. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add sugar, red wine vinegar and basil. Turn off the heat. Remove and discard the sprig of thyme. Add the mushrooms, olives and capers. Toss well. Check seasoning. Sprinkle shredded parmesan. Cover and let it sit for about 5 minutes.
Garnish with more curly parsley. Accompany with a steak or chicken.
You can mix and match any other vegetables you have on hand. You could add other vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli rabe, sugar snap peas or marinated artichoke hearts and melt any kind of cheese.
Sometimes, if I want to be really fancy, I'll crack a quail egg on top of the veggies, cover and wait until the egg is cooked through. Serve them in individual dishes; my little munchkin loves it! If you want to do an adult version, you can sprinkle crumbled blue cheese over the egg as well.
Herbes de Provence is a combination of herbs originating from the Mediterranean region. They're ideal for grilled meat, roasted vegetables, tomato sauce and ratatouille. You can create your own if you have the following ingredients: savory, fennel, basil, thyme, rosemary and lavender.
Frying onions is pretty easy but time consuming. So I make them in advance and fry them in huge batches. I often have fried onions on hand in the freezer.