August and the farmer’s markets are bursting with the most beautiful vegetables. It is a perfect time for making ratatouille. Ratatouille is a classic French casserole stew consisting of eggplant, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini. I was in a book club and we had just read Julie and Julia. Of course, feeling super inspired, we all decided that we had to cook a dish from one of Julia Child’s cookbooks. Open up Mastering the Art of French Cooking and it’s a daunting task!
It was a few years back in the summer–August, actually–and I chose to make ratatouille. I started with a trip to the local farmer’s market and Julia’s recipe. While I do think her recipe is wonderful, I’ve made my own changes to it, and hope you will, as well. Since our vegetarian daughter was coming for a visit, I thought, what better time to make it? It is so perfect to serve over rice, pasta, or just as a side dish. While cooking it, I realized that August 15th was what would have been Julia Child’s 99th birthday! Her spirit certainly lives on. Bon Appetite!
INGREDIENTS: If you don’t have access to a local farmer’s market, you can buy you everything you need at the supermarket.
1 lb eggplant (I prefer small ones because I think they are sweeter and easier to cut up)
1 lb zucchini (you can use yellow and green)
4-6 tablespoons olive oil (you’ll start with 2 and add as needed; I usually end up using between 5 and 6)
1 large yellow onion
1 lb firm, ripe red tomatoes (peeled, seeded and juiced); about 1 1/2 cups (If you want, you can use canned tomatoes but I don’t)
2 sliced peppers (this is where I always use at least 1 green and whatever other color is available or you like the best)
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices–about 3 inches long, 3/8 inches thick and about 1 inch wide. This is just a guideline–do what you like. I like the eggplant in strips rather than cubes but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Scrub the outside of the zucchini, slice off the two ends and cut into slices similar to the eggplant. Place the squash and the eggplant in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Let the veggies stand in the bowl for about 1/2 hour, after which there will be some liquid. Drain it out and then I wrap the veggies in a towel and dry them off. (I know it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.)
I put 4 tablespoons of oil into my pot. (I use a big, heavy Le Creuset casserole pot.) When the oil is hot (medium high heat), I carefully add the eggplant and saute for a few minutes. Then, I remove the eggplant, do the same with the squash and add the removed squash to the eggplant in a separate bowl on the side.
In the same pot, I cook the onions and the peppers (I usually add a little more oil first). Cook for about 10 minutes until tender, not browned. Stir in the garlic and season with a little salt and pepper to taste. You have to peel the tomatoes and then I cut them in half, scoop out the seeds (I use a measuring spoon, which works great) and then just slice tomato pulp into strips about 1/2 inch long. Add the tomatoes to the pot, over the peppers and onions, cover the pot and cook over low heat for approx. five minutes. At this point, the tomatoes will begin to render their juices. Uncover pot, taste for salt and pepper, raise the heat and bring to a boil for about three or so minutes. The juice will begin to evaporate. Lower heat back down to a simmer and add the eggplant and zucchini squash. I cover it and let it cook for at least 1/2 hour. If it’s really boiling and you can’t get it to simmer, turn off the heat and keep it covered on the stove for a while (the stove stays hot and it will continue to cook; you just don’t want to burn it). After a 1/2 hour, correct seasonings if necessary. If I am serving it that night, I remove the cover and heat uncovered for another 15 minutes or so. The veggies should be melded together and softened with most of the juice evaporated. Be mindful of the heat–don’t scorch the bottom of the casserole (stir it around a lot). Serve over pasta, rice, or tofu. This also makes a delicious side dish with meats.
* Serves approx. 8
*This keeps in fridge for a few days, so can be made ahead of time. Just reheat in a saucepan over the stove.