In keeping with my Provençal kick, let’s dish on ratatouille. Not the rat, the movie about the rat, or even the Thomas Kellerized version of the dish made for the rat to make in the movie about the rat. Still with me? Good, because this Niçoise dish of gently stewed eggplant, peppers, squash, and onions can be truly, truly delectable. At its best a hearty melange of summery vegetables napped in a lightly herbed tomato sauce, ratatouille often ends up both blandly watery and overcooked. By efficiently melding and concentrating the flavors, though, you’ll have even the most vociferous carnivores lining up for more.
There are several schools of thought when it comes to ratatouille. While some disagreement may arise over the exact herbs and seasonings, the major bone of contention remains how the vegetables are cooked. Some, including the indomitable Julia Child, advocate for sauteeing the components lightly and separately before baking it all together in a sauce (ALSO prepared separately). For me, not so much–primarily because I like the vegetables to be a bit more…relaxed than I usually would, and the all together now approach does the job just fine.
This isn’t to say, however, that it’s strictly no muss no fuss. The key to avoiding watery blandness is to strain the cooked vegetables and reduce the resulting liquid by at least half before mixing it all back together. Thus ending up with tender veggies in a silky, flavorful sauce that’s really tough to beat. It can be served warm or at room temperature, and while its toothsome enough on its own, I frequently use ratatouille as a bed for baked fish or tempeh for a plate elegant enough for company.
1/3c good olive oil
4 medium onions
3 medium Bell peppers
6 garlic cloves
2 28oz cans whole tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
2 medium eggplant
2 tbs fresh thyme leaves
3 medium zucchini
2 medium yellow summer squash
freshly ground black pepper
Peel and slice the onions into thin half moons. Toss with the olive oil in a large soup or stock pot with a lid. Stirring occasionally, cook over medium-low heat till translucent, about 8 minutes. Keep covered and do not brown. While the onions are cooking, get to prepping the rest of the vegetables. Peel the eggplants and cut into 1″ cubes. Core peppers and cut in 1″ pieces. Mince the garlic. Slice the zucchini and summer squash into 1″ rounds–half rounds if large.
Once the onions are translucent, add the peppers and garlic. Recover the the pot, and cook a few minutes till the garlic is nicely fragrant. Again, we’re not looking to brown the vegetables. Dice tomatoes. Add them along with their juices and the tomato paste, stirring to combine. Add the eggplant and thyme, cooking until the eggplant is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the zucchini and summer squash, cooking till desired tenderness is achieved.
Setting a sieve or strainer over a large bowl, carefully drain the liquid from the vegetables. You may need to work in batches. Return liquid to pot, bring to a rolling boil and reduce at least by half. Return vegetables to pot, mix, and correct seasonings. Serve warm or at room temperature–ratatouille’s charms are somewhat diminished when too cold or too hot.