Ratatouille is a summer dish that gets us over the hump of too many zucchini, and maybe tomatoes. It’s enjoyable warm, cold, or room temperature–but it’s not an especially memorable dish. Not usually–however, I’ve one recipe for it that is memorable.This is not the ratatouille that you put together in the slow cooker, or quickly; however, if you like ratatouille, you should take the time and effort to make this one. Go ahead and splurge on the saffron.That’s part of what makes this memorable.
The recipe from Simply French: Patricia Wells presents the cuisine of Joël Robuchon (see bibliography) gave entirely new meaning to ratatouille.
Provençal Vegetables (Ratatouille)
Adapted from Simply French, pp. 229-230. Serves: 8 to 10
- 10 medium tomatoes
- 2 medium onions finely chopped
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt to taste
- 1 green bell pepper, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, peeled and thinly sliced
- Bouquet garni: several parsley stems, celery leaves, sprigs thyme, wrapped in the green part of a leek and fastened with kitchen twine
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- Freshly ground white pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste (optional)
- 6 to 7 small zucchini scrubbed, trimmed, and cut into matchsticks (about 1-1/4 pounds)
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 3 small eggplants peeled and cut into matchsticks (about 1-1/2 pounds)
- Pinch of saffron threads (optional)
- Core, peel, and seed the tomatoes. Save as much juice as possible and strain. If strained juice does not measure 1 cup, add water as needed to bring to 1 cup. Finely chop the tomatoes and set aside.
- In a large skillet, combine onions, 1/4 cup oil, and pinch of salt. Cook over low heat until soft and translucent.
- Add peppers and pinch salt. Cover and continue cooking about 5 minutes more.ÒΛÓ
- Add chopped tomatoes, stir and continue cooking for about 5 minutes more.
- Stir in the tomato juice, bouquet garni, and garlic. Taste for seasoning.
- Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes–don’t over cook–vegetables should not be mushy!
- If the tomatoes lack flavor, add tomato paste.
- In another skillet, while the tomatoes, onions and seasonings cook, heat 1/2 cup oil over moderate heat. When hot add zucchini and sauté until lightly colored (about 5 minutes). Transfer to colander and drain excess oil. Season with thyme and salt.
- In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil and sauté the eggplant until lightly colored. Transfer to colander and drain excess oil.
- Add zucchini and eggplant to the tomato mixture and taste for seasoning, add saffron if desired, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.
- Serve warm, room temperature, or cold. Will keep covered and refrigerated for several days.
This is not you everyday, get rid of the zucchini, ratatouille. It’s special occasion, peak tomato season, and it take time and effort, but if you invest the time and effort, I think you’ll agree that it is a fantastic dish. This best made when tomatoes are at their peak–you don’t want to expend this effort and use canned tomatoes or supermarket ones that have no flavor–that would be a waste of effort. Neither the tomato paste nor the saffron can overcome that deficit.