Ratatouille is a Provençal vegetable stew that (traditionally) contains no meat. Meat is expensive, and dishes like this were meant for the peasant class. Instead, ratatouille packs an abundance of eggplant, basil, tomatoes, zucchini or summer squash, and sweet bell peppers. As the summer days wear on, this recipe will make an excellent side or a light main course.
You may picture ratatouille as a fanciful arrangement of thinly sliced, uniform medallions of alternating colors (purple, yellow, red, green, etc.), expertly aligned in a shallow bowl. This is a variation called confit byaldi, popular especially amongst rat-chefs in French kitchens. It requires produce of similar size and circumference, some very precise knifework, over an hour of food prep alone… all things I am personally– how do you say– not interested in recreating. No, the best ratatouille is Alice Waters’ rough and mushy classic, which was the starting point for this recipe.
Serves 6, cooking time approximately 1.5 hours, active cooking time 1 hour
- 2 small-ish Italian eggplants
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 red bell peppers
- 1 and 1/2 lbs of zucchini and/or summer squash
- 4 vine-on tomatoes
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 bunch of basil
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
- Dried red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper
- Dice the eggplants, onion, bell peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Try to make them a uniform size so they will cook evenly (and look pretty!) in this stew.
- Sprinkle the eggplant cubes with salt and place in a colander for 30 minutes to draw out the liquid. Rinse and pat dry before cooking.
- In a large pot or dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant and cook until golden on all sides. You may need to add more olive oil (up to 2 tablespoons) a little at a time, to prevent the eggplant from sticking to the pot and burning. Remove the eggplant when cooked.
- Add the final 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onions with a pinch of salt and cook for 10 minutes; then add the garlic and cook for three more minutes.
- While the onion and garlic are cooking, reserve 4-5 basil leaves and tie the rest of the bunch into a bundle with kitchen twine or thread. Tie this thread to a handle on the pot, and drop the rest into the ratatouille.
- Add the red peppers and cook for 5 minutes, then add the squash. After 5 more minutes, add the tomatoes.
- Stir the mixture frequently to combine the flavors. After 10 more minutes, add the eggplant back into the pot. Mix thoroughly, cover, and cook for 10 more minutes.
- In the meantime, chiffonade the basil into thin strips for topping.
- When the ratatouille is done, remove the bundle of basil bundle and add salt and pepper to taste. Top with the thin strips of basil and additional olive oil if desired, and serve with a crusty baguette.
The flavors in a well-made ratatouille are deep and complex; each bite showcases a different ingredient. It’s filling without being rich, which is what suits it so well to a summer meal rotation.
At around $2.75 a serving, the bounty of vegetables required to make this dish will by no means break the bank. Ratatouille is very healthy as well, depending on what is served alongside it. A bit of crusty bread or even polenta are spectacular accompaniments. Best of all, ratatouille leftovers are a shoo-in for brunch; add a poached egg and you’re in for a treat.