I’ve read that ratatouille is a summer stew – I can’t argue veggies are best when at their seasonal peak. Fresh and fabulous produce is available year round, though, and quite honestly I am happy to make ratatouille anytime. The deep sense of quietness that comes from chopping the vegetables and then cooking them, one by one, brings a groundedness and peace to my kitchen.
If you’ve never heard of ratatouille, it’s a hearty Provencal vegetable stew that originated in Nice. The traditional vegetables are tomatoes, eggplants, onions, zucchini, and bell peppers. The very first time I made this dish, I was blown away at the complexity of flavors that are produced from such simple ingredients. It’s a truly heady experience.
I love to make a big pot, which costs about $10 for all the veggies, and then eat it for days. Ratatouille is even better the next day, so it’s a grea make ahead meal. We eat it as a main dish, put it in omelets, eat it as an appetizer, wrap it in crepes. I didn’t think Joe would feel satisfied to just eat ratatouille as a main course, but he is completely appeased.
There are as many different ways to make ratatouille as there are ways to eat it. I’ve never made a bad pot of ratatouille, but I’ve decided that my favorite way is to cook each vegetable individually and then put them all back together in the same pot and simmer for an hour or so until all of the vegetables are perfectly soft. I’d read somewhere that this cooking method honors each vegetable individually. I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept until I tried it, but it’s true. The eggplant still tastes like eggplant but is enhanced by the other flavors- and the same happens with all the other ingredients. I also reduce the sauce once the ratatouille is cooked – it concentrates the flavors and gives great depth.
Pair your ratatouille with chickpea pancakes, properly known as socca, and you have a delicious meal. Another dish that originated in Nice, socca is slightly nutty, soft, earthy, and so easy to make. I’ve baked socca in every type of dish I have and cast iron produces the very best pancakes – crispy around the edges and perfectly cooked all the way through. Socca uses garbanzo bean flour so if you’re a hummus fan, you must try this. Joe and I can’t get enough of it. And, it’s naturally gluten-free and sugar-free. The recipe below is the basic, traditional version but have fun with this and add garlic and herbs.
If you’ve never made ratatouille before, I hope you won’t be overwhelmed by this dish and will try it for yourself. If you do, let me know if you love it as much as I do. And if you’ve already been won over, I’d love to hear your best tips and tricks.
For more inspired recipes and food ideas, stop by:
- The Gluten-Free Homemaker for What Can I Eat That’s Gluten-Free?
- Kelly the Kitchen Kop for Real Food Wednesday
Serves: 8 - 10 servings
- 2½ pounds of tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 8 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 20 fresh basil leaves, torn in half
- ¼ – ½ cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds of eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2¼ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 large white or yellow onions, about 1½ pounds, quartered and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 3 assorted bell peppers (a mix of green, red, and yellow)
- 2 pounds of zucchini, quartered lenghtwise and cut into ¾ inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
- Combine tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil, and about 2 tablespoons of oil in a 6-quart heavy pot, bringing to a simmer. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, toss eggplant with ½ teaspoon salt and place in a colander. Let eggplant rest over the sink or in a deep dish for 30 minutes.
- Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions with ¼ teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 – 12 minutes. Transfer onions to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. If necessary, add a little more oil to the skillet and cook bell peppers with ¼ teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally until softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl with onions using a slotted spoon. Again, add a little more oil if necessary and then cook zucchini with another ¼ teaspoon salt until softened, about 8 – 10 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with other vegetables using a slotted spoon.
- While zucchini is cooking, place a layer of paper towels on your counter or on a large baking sheet. Place the eggplant on the paper towels, and use another layer of paper towels to pat it dry. Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to skillet if needed and cook eggplant until soft, about 10 to 12 minutes.
- Add all vegetables, remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper to the tomatoes and simmer, covered, until all vegetables are very tender, about an hour. Place a colander in a large bowl and carefully transfer vegetables to the colander, catching the sauce in the bowl. Once the sauce has drained, place it back in the heavy pot and simmer, uncovered, until it reduces by half. Remove from heat and place vegetables back in pot.
- Taste and adjust seasoning. Cool, uncovered, and serve as desired.