Ratatouille

February 24, 2009

Ratatouille is an evocatively hued Provençal sauté of an olio of vegetables — traditionally garlic, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, peppers, squashes, and herbs — which likely originated in Nice during the 18th century.  The word for this stew derived from the  from the Occitan ratatolha and the tail touiller means “to stir up or toss food” in French.  Approaches to ratatouille often differ from kitchen to kitchen.  Some chefs simply sauté the vegs together, others carefully layer them in a casserole and bake in the oven, while a third group sautés the vegs separately so they remain recognizable then recombines them and finishes the dish with a slowly simmer in a pot. 

My particular preference is to serve it cold after an overnight layover in the refrigerator which allows the various flavors and scents to mingle. Although often served as a main course, ratatouille goes swimmingly well with grilled meats and a crusty baguette.

RATATOUILLE

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 Japanese eggplants, unpeeled, sliced 1/4″ thick
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C water

1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 zucchini, sliced crosswise 1/4″ thick
2 yellow squash, sliced crosswise 1/4″ thick
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4″ strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/4″ strips
2 T red wine vinegar
4 medium ripe red & yellow tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped

2 T capers, rinsed and drained
2 T pitted Nicoise olives, chopped
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped

Salt and pepper the eggplant lightly and toss in a bowl with 3 T olive oil. Transfer to a baking dish and add water. Cover and bake for 40 minutes, until soft

Meanwhile, heat 3 T olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until tender and slightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add the peppers, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring, until they are both nicely browned. Add the wine vinegar and cook one minute. Place this mixture in a bowl.

Add the remaining 2 T olive oil to the pan and sauté the squashes, turning until they turn brown, then place in the bowl with the onions and peppers. Add the already baked eggplants to the bowl. Pour off any excess liquid remaining in the baking dish. Mix in tomatoes with the other vegetables and place all in the pot. Add the bay leaf and garlic and bring to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. The ratatouille should not be soupy, so pour off excess liquid into a sauce pan and reduce until it thickens; then pour the reduced juice over the vegetables. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender and flavors have blended, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add capers, chopped olives, parsley, and basil. Remove from heat and let cool. Discard bay leaf and season to your taste with salt and pepper.

Serve cold, warm or hot.

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