The basket of ripe, perfect, summer vegetables sitting on the counter kept coaxing me to make ratatouille. What started as a whisper early yesterday became more insistent as the day wore on. So a bowl of versatile ratatouille is now tucked in the refrigerator. It’s a wonderful side dish for grilled fish or chicken. It can be the sauce for a bowl of pasta. Also lovely at room temperature topping grilled country bread as an appetizer or a light lunch.
There are as many recipes and techniques for ratatouille as there are cooks. I adopt a compromise position between Julia Child, who cooked each vegetable individually before combining them, and Alice Waters, who singles out only the eggplant for special attention. I like to salt and drain the zucchini and summer squash in addition to the eggplant.
2 small eggplant
2 summer squash
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow (or red) bell pepper
2-3 ripe tomatoes
fresh basil and thyme, small bunch of each tied with twine
kosher salt, red pepper flakes
1. Cut all vegetables into a uniform size. Roughly a half inch dice.
2. Put the diced eggplant into a colander, sprinkle with a little salt and let drain for at least 15 minutes. I put a plate on top of the eggplant and weigh it down with a large can of tomatoes. Individual choice whether to peel the eggplant or not. I peeled one and left the peel on the other one for added color.
3. Put the diced squashes in another colander, salt them and let them drain as well. Summer squash has more seeds than zucchini, so I like to scrape some of the seeds off before dicing them.
4. Heat about 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy pot. Le Creuset is perfect.
5. Dry the eggplant with paper towels and cook until soft and light brown in color. Remove from the pan and set aside.
6. Add about 2 more tablespoons of oil to the pan. Put the diced onions into the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften. Add a little salt and a shake or two of red pepper flakes. Add the minced garlic. Cook until fragrant.
7. Add the diced pepper, then the squash and then the tomatoes, pausing a couple of minutes between each addition. Stir well to incorporate each vegetable into the mixture. Add the herbs tied with string and stir well. Let simmer for about 10 minutes.
8. Last, but not least, add the eggplant. Stir and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes.
9. Remove the herb bundle and adjust for seasoning. You might need to add more salt. I also like to add a squeeze of lemon or a splash of balsamic vinegar. Some additional fresh basil and thyme leaves are also nice.