Really Good Ratatouille, Minus the Rat
I had never heard of ratatouille. Not until the movie. Mention “ratatouille” to most Americans and the first thing that comes to mind is that cute little Disney rat. I love to cook, but being a self-taught cook, I usually need a recipe to follow. I came across this recipe in an old cookbook of best recipes. I decided to try it even if I didn't have a small rodent directing my every move. So, this is my experience making ratatouille.
Ratatouille is a French Provencal stewed vegetable dish. It originated in Nice. I've been to Nice. It's very nice in Nice. The word “ratatouille” is related to the French words "ratouiller" and "tatouiller," when translated means “to stir up.” From the late 18th century, it just meant a course stew. The modern day recipe didn't appear in print until the 1930's.
This version leans more towards the traditional French method as opposed to the American way of tossing everything into one pot and stewing until tender. This healthy recipe deals with each vegetable individually to maximize texture and flavor while minimizing the oil.
Starting with the eggplant. Since this is a vegetable that absorbs oil like a sponge, it is best cooked at a very high heat. Any type of eggplant will do. Just make sure it's fresh and ripe. This applies to the zucchini as well.
Several ratatouille recipes call for canned tomatoes, but use the real thing. In fact, buying thee right tomato and preparing it correctly can make or break a ratatouille. Round tomatoes, especially the rugged beefsteak variety works very well. For absolutely best results, add them near the end of cooking. Give them just enough time to start to break down and give just enough moisture to hold the stew together.
You'll also want to peel the tomatoes. The best way to do it is to drop the cored tomatoes into boiling water for a few seconds, followed by shocking them in ice water. Which ever type of tomato you use, be sure and leave the seeds intact. The seed carry a lot of liquid and removing them will result in a dry stew.
If possible, use fresh herbs. Basil is the most widely used herb in ratatouille. This is due in large part to the growing schedule as it corresponds with the other vegetables used. Combine it with fresh parsley and woody-flavored thyme. And don't skimp. Add the herbs just before serving and they will remain bright in color and complement the vegetables perfectly.
- 2 large eggplants (2 to 2 ½ pounds) ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Kosher salt
- 2 large zucchini (about 1 ½ pounds), scrubbed and cut into 1-inch cubes
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 large onion ( I used yellow), chopped large
- 2-3 medium garlic cloves
- 3 medium, ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound) cored, peeled, and cut into 2-inch square cubes
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh minced thyme leaves
- Ground black pepper
- Place the eggplant in a large colander set over a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1 Tbs salt and toss to distribute evenly. Let stand at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours. Rinse the eggplant well under water to remove the salt and spread it in an even layer on a triple thickness of paper towels. Cover with more paper towels and press firmly on the eggplant with hands until the eggplant is dry and feel firm and compressed.
- Adjust one oven rack to the upper-middle position and the second rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil.
- Combine the eggplant, zucchini, and 2 Tbs of the oil together in a large bowl. Divide the vegetables evenly between the baking sheet. Spreading them in a single layer on each sheet. Sprinkle with salt and roast stirring every 10 minutes, until well browned and tender, approximately 30 mins. Rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom halfway through the roasting time. Set aside when done.
- Heat the remaining 2 Tbs oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat until it simmers. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and golden brown, 15 to 20 mins. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Next, add the tomatoes and cook only until they release their juices and begin to break down, about 5 mins. Add the roasted eggplant and zucchini, stirring gently until thoroughly to combine. Cook until just heated through, about 5 mins. Stir in the herbs and adjust with salt and pepper to taste. (Can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days)
It wasn't the easiest dish to prepare but absolutely worth all the effort. Don't worry about making it look perfect, just follow the directions and enjoy!
© 2017 Shirley Fox