Stir It Up with Ratatouille
At the height of the summer produce season, our gardens are bursting with juicy ripe tomatoes, fat eggplants, and limitless zucchini. In the hot months of July and August, I usually opt to grill my veggies and toss them with pasta and herbs for a quick meal that avoids the sweltering kitchen. But as Summer comes to a close, we have that one blast of cool air. That one day when the temperatures drop into the comfortable 70's, dipping even lower in the evenings, and I remember that Autumn is right around the corner. I remember the joy of "Slow-cook Sundays," spending the day with the aroma of something delicious cooking on the stove. Taking hours to prepare what I hope to be a complex, flavorful and comforting dinner. When I see the forecast calling for a rainy, cool day at the start of September and I still have the full summer bounty, I know exactly what to make for that first slow-cook meal --
Yes, there are faster, easier recipes for Ratatouille. I have one where I chop all the ingredients, then roast them all together in the oven, toss with a few other things and I'm done. I have another where I grill all the veggies, then toss together to finish. Both are yummy and are great when it's hot outside or I'm short on time. But when I have all day to cook, this recipe from Food & Wine magazine is the best! Each vegetable is cooked separately to achieve the perfect consistency and best flavor, then they're all finished together with some herbs and a splash of rosé.
2 medium (1-pound) eggplants, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 11 cups)
3 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt, divided, plus more to taste
¾ cup mild extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
2 medium (8-ounce) zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 1/2 cups)
2 medium-size (8-ounce) yellow onions, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 2/3 cups)
2 medium-size (8-ounce) red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon)
3 small tomatoes (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
6 to 8 (4-inch) basil sprigs, to taste
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
¼ cup rosé
3 tablespoons premium extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if desired
1. Place eggplant pieces in a colander. Sprinkle eggplant with 2 teaspoons salt, and toss to combine. Let stand 20 minutes. Working in batches, pat eggplant dry with paper towels. Heat 1/4 cup mild olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium. Add eggplant, and cook, stirring often, until eggplant is tender but not falling apart, 12 to 15 minutes, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons additional oil as needed if eggplant sticks to bottom of skillet. Remove from heat. Transfer eggplant to a large bowl. Do not wipe skillet clean.
2. Return skillet to heat over medium, and add 2 tablespoons mild olive oil. Add zucchini, and cook, stirring often, until zucchini is very tender and just turns translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt. Remove from heat, and transfer zucchini to bowl with eggplant. Do not wipe skillet clean. Return skillet to heat over medium, and add 2 tablespoons mild olive oil. Add onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add bell peppers, 2 tablespoons mild olive oil, and 1/8 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until bell peppers are very tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook, stirring often, 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer bell pepper mixture to bowl with eggplant mixture. Do not wipe skillet clean.
3. Return skillet to heat over medium. Add tomatoes, basil sprigs, crushed red pepper (if using), remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons mild olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and most tomato juices evaporate, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in rosé; cook, stirring often, until rosé is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Return reserved eggplant mixture to skillet; cook over medium, stirring often to prevent sticking, until flavors meld and mixture is creamy but textured, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Drizzle ratatouille with premium olive oil. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Season with additional salt to taste. Remove and discard basil sprigs.
Serve warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of premium olive oil over each serving, if desired. I serve mine over this recipe by Ina Garten for Parmesan Polenta.
Recipe courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine, July 2022