with temperatures near 100°f this week, the first thing on everyone’s mind is how to stay cool. thankfully, this time of year it is easy to turn a pile of fresh vegetables into a refreshing ratatouille that is both light and satisfying. i ate this dish endlessly when i studied abroad in aix-en-provence, france, and i never tired of the incredible flavor. it’s a dish that allows the individual vegetables to shine while still creating a coherent stew, and it’s excellent hot or cold. ratatouille also encourages creativity as you can use any vegetables you have on hand and you can experiment with the flavors that different herbs and aromatics contribute to the dish. and when deciding what vegetables to use, go for color! besides being delicious, ratatouille is definitely eye-catching. whether sitting down to lunch or dinner, pair your ratatouille with a side of polenta and a cool glass of rosé and you can almost feel the fresh mediterranean breezes!
for my ratatouille i had on hand italian eggplants, red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and orange bell peppers–all from my usual farmer’s market in brattleboro, vermont. i was feeling ambitious this week, so i decided to follow julia child’s recipe in mastering the art of french cooking. this is a fantastic cookbook, but the recipes tend to be fairly intricate and usually involve lots of steps, such as cooking each vegetable individually for the ratatouille, then stewing together, basting often, etc. there is no doubt the end result was excellent, but i have a quicker ratatouille recipe that i usually resort to when i don’t feel like spending hours browning slices of eggplant and zucchini one by one. if that’s more your speed, check out the recipe below.
6 italian eggplants
3 yellow summer squash
4 bell peppers
2 medium yellow onions
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.)
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for roasting vegetables
1. preheat the oven to 400°f. line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and coat lightly with olive oil.
2. peel eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash and slice into 1/4″ thick slices about 3″ long and 1″ wide. cut peppers into 1″ wide slices.
3. spread the vegetables on the baking sheets in one layer. brush or spray with olive oil to coat lightly, then roast for about 30-45 minutes, or until veggies are lightly browned.
4. while the vegetables are cooking, drop the tomatoes into boiling water for about 12 seconds each, then remove quickly with a spider or large slotted spoon. as soon as they are cool, remove the peel by scoring each tomato with a paring knife and then peeling the skin with your fingers. cut the peeled tomatoes in half horizontally and remove and discard the seeds and juice. slice the tomato flesh into 1/4″ thick slices and set aside.
5. slice the onions in thin half-moons and set aside, then mince the garlic and set aside.
6. in a heavy casserole pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent but not brown, about 15 minutes.
7. add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often. then add the tomatoes and cook covered for 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes have rendered their juices.
8. turn off the heat and remove 2/3 of the onion and tomato mixture into a bowl. to the casserole add 1/2 of the roasted vegetables, sprinkle with 1/3 of the parsley and herbs, then add another 1/3 of the onion and tomatoes. repeat with the remaining vegetables and another 1/3 of the parsley and herbs. end with another layer of onions and tomatoes and parsley and herbs.
9. cover and simmer over medium low heat for 15 minutes, basting every 5 minutes with the juices that collect at the bottom of the casserole. before serving let stand half-covered for another 15 minutes to allow the juices to settle back into vegetables. the dish can also be cooled and refrigerated to eat cold or reheat the next day. the flavors of the dish will be more intense after a night of refrigeration.
cooking up a side of polenta for the ratatouille is simple and is a delicious accompaniment. the cooking instructions for polenta will depend on whether or not you are using instant polenta. this has its benefits–mainly that it is very quick to make! but there is nothing that compares to the creamy, toothsome quality of slow-cooked polenta. take a little extra time to saute an aromatic of your choice in olive oil or butter, throw in as many herbs as you like, and give your arms a workout with about 25 minutes of stirring and you will be well rewarded. for the detailed directions, just follow the instructions on your polenta package. and for an extra treat, add some grated parmesan to the polenta just before it is done.
ratatouille: a dish of stewed vegetables that originated in provence. also, a fabulous movie.
aromatics: used in culinary terms to refer to ingredients such as onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, and garlic.