Ok, so the name is sometimes more fun than the dish itself. Ratatouille evokes all kinds of call-outs and tabletop drumming from me, in an effort to convince Brian of its viability as a recipe to remain in our files. It starts one Saturday morning at the farmer’s market, as we pass a table full of deep-purple eggplant and I turn to Brian to ask “how about ratatouille this week?”. He’ll snarl a little, let out an “eh” and shrug his shoulders. This happens for a few consecutive Saturdays, until finally I’ll say, “come on...rat-a-tat-toooooouuuuuille!” and he’ll grin and agree that this can be the week for our once-a-year ratatouille night.
For me, it wouldn’t be the end of summer without the classic eggplant, zucchini and tomato-laden dish. It feels like a last-hurrah for the final produce of the season and the perfect start to autumn, when I start craving meals of its kind. It is homey and hearty, a melding of flavors served warm over pasta and topped with shaved parmesan cheese. I like to dunk a couple of thick slices of crusty french bread into the juices, and usually pair the meal with one of my first glasses of red wine of the season. Its tradition, and one that I cling to mightily despite a little resistance.
For Brian, ratatouille is just a little “blah”. He doesn’t mind it so much, but would prefer that we skip straight from summer salads to creamy potato cheese soup and pans full of bubbly lasagna. Typically, after we’ve purchased our eggplant Saturday morning, it will sit on the countertop for a couple of days until finally, on the cusp of its transition from firm and fleshy to soft and dimpled, I’ll convince Brian that “tonight is rat-a-tat-touille night!” and it will be peeled, cubed, salted and tossed in a pan with a glug of olive oil, freshly diced zucchini and a generous pile of minced garlic.
After some silly names, a few tabletop drumming performances and maybe a little ratatouille dance, it is the smell that will finally bring Brian around - his nose leads him to the kitchen and he’ll sheepishly tell me “it smells really good in here, honey”. The eggplant is set aside, and in its place onion and bell pepper start sizzling away. Tomatoes are added, and as their juice is released the eggplant is tossed back into the pan. All is covered and simmered until the eggplant is silky and the zucchini and peppers are just tender. Pasta is boiled, parmesan is shaved and bread is sliced. Dinner is served alongside glasses of red wine, in the golden light of the fading sun and suddenly, it is Fall.
Basic Ratatouilleadapted from the joy of cookingover pasta, this will serve 4
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tbsp
2 medium eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
4-5 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 large bell peppers, red, yellow or orange, cut into 1-inch squares
1-1/2 cups chopped and seeded fresh tomatoes (I used romas. the recipe says to peel them, I did not.)
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme (oregano is good as well)
2 bay leaves
salt + pepper
After peeling and chopping your eggplant, place it in a colander and sprinkle with course sea salt. Let sit for 30 minutes to release some of the liquid, rinse well and pat dry.
Heat the oil over high heat and add the eggplant and zucchini. Saute' for about 8 minutes, then add the garlic. Continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes until the veggies are golden and just tender. (This timing will depend on the freshness of your eggplant. You don't want it to get too soft, so watch closely.)
Remove the vegetables from the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high. Drizzle in the 2 tbsp of olive oil and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes until the veggies are just tender but not browned. Season with salt and pepper to tasted.
Add tomatoes, thyme and bay leaf. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the eggplant mixture and cook until everything is tender 10-20 minutes. (Again, this depends on your veggies. You want the eggplant to be silky but not falling apart, and the other veggies to be tender but not mushy.) Taste and adjust your seasonings.
* We decided after this go-round that the ratatouille could be improved with the addition of some red pepper flakes. I'd add about a 1/4 tsp, depending on your tastes, when you add the onion and bell pepper to the pan.
* Another possibility, if you're not a fan of spicy food, is to add capers. I had a bruschetta recently with eggplant, onion, tomato and capers that was absolutely delicious, so think they'd be lovely in the ratatouille as well. I'd start with a tablespoon, added with the tomatoes, and add more if you feel it is necessary.