Or late Summer vegetable stew
While the name can seem a bit off-putting or possibly conjure up images of a scrappy little rat named Remy, with an unlikely penchant for gourmet cooking (depending on how old your children are,) Ratatouille, the French late Summer vegetable stew, is well worth getting acquainted with. Especially if you have a garden and are currently in a state of tomato overflow… like I am!
This point in late summer/early fall happens to be the magical moment when tomatoes are at their most plentiful, eggplant and peppers are at peak ripeness, and a few zucchini still linger, making it the perfect time to create something delicious with all of these wonderful vegetables combined – which is exactly what Ratatouille is. Ratatouille in its essence is simple – a vegetable medley, slow-simmered with fresh herbs to render a meltingly tender, deliciously satisfying flavor meld. The trick is in the freshness of the ingredients and the cooking method. And, while it will probably justifiably anger any true Francophile, my version of this recipe cuts out much of the fussiness of the authentic French preparation of the dish – namely individually sauteing each vegetable group and then arranging them artfully in a dish before slow cooking them further. I might be up for this more showy approach for a dinner party but I find my more rustic, casual version just as delicious and satisfying… and much simpler!
The one thing that I will not compromise on is fresh tomatoes. I have seen a number of recipes call for canned tomatoes and even in some cases, tomato paste but I think that this is a mistake. The magic of this dish is the marriage of fresh flavors – letting the vegetables at their peak ripeness really shine. Canned tomatoes don’t have as much flavor as fresh and the strong taste of tomato paste will overpower the other vegetables. The logic behind using canned tomatoes and tomato paste is probably to eliminate some of the natural water contained in fresh tomatoes. However, the simple steps of pre-salting the eggplant and letting the chopped tomatoes drain in a strainer easily eliminates excess water that could impact optimal cooking time. Using equal amounts of each fresh vegetable type is the key to creating wonderful balanced flavor that doesn’t need anything more than fresh herbs and salt and pepper to make it pop.
And best of all Ratatouille is incredibly versatile! It can serve as a satisfying side for a main dish like roast chicken legs (one of my favorite ways to enjoy it) or it can even be used as a hearty pasta sauce. I made a double recipe here and used it both as a side dish for homemade chicken tenders and as a sauce for cheese ravioli the following night – more bang for the buck!
So without further explanation, I present to you my version of the timeless French classic, Ratatouille. Enjoy!
Simple, Rustic Ratatouille
- Dutch Oven or saute pan and oven safe pot
- 4 Cups Fresh Tomatoes 6-8 beefsteak type tomatoes (depending on size)
- 4 Cups Eggplant about 1 large eggplant
- 4 Cups Zucchini about 1 medium zucchini
- 4 Cups Bell Peppers about 2 large Red, Yellow, or Orange peppers
- 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
- Large Bunch Fresh Basil about 2 cups – divided
- 5 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
- Small Bunch Parsley
- 2 Medium Onions
- Chop tomatoes into approximately ½ chunks and place in strainer or colander to let drain over sink or bowl for at least half an hour
- Slice eggplant and zucchini into ¼ to ½ inch slices and lay out on paper towels in a single layer – salt generously and let sit for at least half an hour
- Chop up bell peppers into approximately ½ chunks and set aside
- Slice onions and set aside
- Create an herb bundle with the thyme, parsley, and half the basil (save the other half for later) by tying it with undyed string or thread
- Once eggplant has released its liquid, press firmly with paper towels to remove as much liquid as possible
- Pour ¼ cup olive oil into dutch oven or large saute pan and set over medium heat for 3 minutes
- Add onions and saute for 3 minutes
- Add eggplant to hot oil and saute for 3-4 minutes
- Add remaining ¼ cup of olive oil
- Next add zucchini and peppers and saute for another 3-4 minutes
- Finally add the tomatoes and herb bundle and turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes with no lid – stirring occasionally
- Preheat oven to 350°
- After vegetable have cooked on the stove top for 20 minutes remove herb bundle, place lid on dutch oven or transfer to oven safe pot with lid (if using a saute pan) and place in oven
- Cook covered and undisturbed in oven for 40 minutes to allow flavors to meld and vegetables to become meltingly tender
- Remove from oven and add remaining basil (stems removed and leaves torn in half)
- Let cool slightly before serving and sprinkle with a pit of parmesan cheese if desired