Sometimes we think ratatouille is French for “quick summer vegetable hash”. (It isn’t, but that pretty much describes it). Typical of rustic French cooking, ratatouille combines a number of somewhat basic ingredients and makes them into more than the sum of their parts. For this dish the “parts” are eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, olives, olive oil and seasoning. And since gardens and farmers markets are brimming with all of those ingredients in late summer, ratatouille is a good way to use up some of the stuff (particularly the less attractive specimens).
While the list of ingredients for ratatouille is pretty standard, the method for preparing the dish is anything but standard. Some recipes suggest cooking all the vegetables separately and then combining at the end. Some recipes suggest a layered approach. Some bake, some saute’, some simmer. But since we like “simple” garden recipes, we use an adapted Jacques Pepin recipe (all of his recipes work) that simmers all the veggies together in the same pot and serves the ratatouille over pasta or rice. This is a very quick and tasty version of ratatouille that makes up for slightly less defined textures with ease of cooking.
And this is an easy dish to make. Chop vegetables, mix everything in a pot, simmer for 30 minutes, cool and serve. But there are a few tips and choices that will make the most of the dish. Japanese eggplant will work better, as they are firmer and have fewer seeds. Sweet red peppers round out the flavors more than green peppers. And fresh tomatoes, when in season, with a touch of purée make for brighter flavor than canned tomatoes (but canned are fine). A few briny black olives added at the end balance the sweet flavors. And simple seasoning is often best. We love fresh herbs in our cooking but suggest just a touch of herbs like thyme or marjoram. A little fresh basil at the end adds a lovely aroma. Continue reading