Country-style ratatouille
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FoodA bounty of summer veggies

Country-style ratatouille

This dish can be made a day before serving and it pairs well with chicken or meat.

Country-style ratatouille (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Country-style ratatouille (Photo by Jessica Grann)

I really appreciate cooking with fresh local produce, and now that it’s later in the summer season, produce markets are bursting with fresh tomatoes, squash and eggplant. Ratatouille is one of my favorite vegetable dishes. I enjoy the simplicity of fresh herbs, garlic and salt in the way that the French have perfected.

There are beautiful versions of ratatouille where cooks lay out the vegetables in concentric circles. My version takes much less time, as all of the ingredients are cut up roughly, sautéed and then finished in the oven.

I do suggest investing in a large cast iron pot with an enamel coating. You can easily find affordable brands online, and it’s a tool that will elevate your cooking because it truly turns out a better result than a stainless pot or a casserole dish. If you don’t have a cast iron pot, you can use a stainless pot on the stovetop, but you will need to transfer the vegetables to a lidded casserole before placing the dish into the oven.

I especially love ratatouille because you can make it a day before serving and it pairs well with chicken or with meat.

Ingredients:

2 large eggplants, cubed, about 8 cups
1 large sweet onion, cubed
1 large sweet bell pepper; I typically choose orange or yellow for color
2 medium-sized zucchini, cubed
2 medium-sized yellow squash, cubed
4 large tomatoes, stemmed and cubed, about 3 cups
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
1.5 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

I suggest salting and soaking the eggplant before preparing it. When eggplant is in season, it’s not necessary to do so, but I like to be sure that any bitterness has been removed before cooking.

Dice the eggplants in 1- to 2-inch-sized cubes (none of the vegetables in this recipe need to be perfectly uniform.)

Place the eggplant into a bowl or on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt. Let sit for 20 minutes before rinsing off the salt. If you have time, you can pour water over the eggplant and let it soak for 10 minutes before rinsing.

Pat the eggplant with paper towels before cooking to remove any excess water after rinsing. The color of the skins may bleed brown onto the flesh of the eggplant, and that’s OK.

I’ve mentioned in other articles that I like to cook vegetables in a certain sequence so that the entire dish doesn’t turn into mush. I stand near the stove and chop the vegetables while I’m cooking because I find it saves time overall.

Preheat your oven to 325 F, and place the oven rack toward the bottom ⅓ of the oven.

Place a heavy pot over medium heat to warm for a few minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and allow the oil to heat for a minute before adding the eggplant to the pot. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the onion and cook for another 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Depending on your burner and the pan that you’re using, you may want to reduce the heat to medium-low.

While the onions are cooking with the eggplant, chop the zucchini and squash into 1- to 2-inch cubes, leaving the skin on. I peel the skin off the tomatoes, but you can leave it on if it’s easier for you. If you have a little less or more of any vegetable, it’s perfectly fine to add it in; you don’t need perfect measurements for this recipe.

Peel and slice the garlic, about 5 pieces per clove.

Add the zucchini and yellow squash, stirring for another 5 minutes before adding the sliced garlic.

Stir for one minute until fragrant before adding the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil over the top, and gently place the rosemary and thyme on top of the vegetables; I just put them in a loose bundle to one side.

Cover and cook in oven for 1 hour.

Let cool for 10 minutes before serving or cool completely and store in the refrigerator if you want to prepare something lovely ahead of a Shabbat or holiday meal.

Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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