Even though Disney may have made the French vegetable dish, “Ratatouille”, a household word, I still encounter people who wrinkle their nose at my suggestion that I cook up a batch and serve it to them. Invariably the response will be, “um, hmmm, not sure I’ll like it but, maybe.” And the conversation trails off. This in spite of the fact that Ratatouille is not made from rats, nor is it haute cuisine. This earthy blending of vegetables results in a delicately-flavored stew which provides a cook with endless possibilities for side dishes, not to mention that you can stuff an omelette with the leftovers for a simple healthy breakfast. It freezes well, too, if you need to free up fridge space, but since it keeps nicely for a week this isn’t strictly necessary. All that’s required is an open mind.
2 large eggplants, peeled and diced into 1″ pieces
1 lb zucchini, quartered and sliced into 1/2″ thick pieces
1/2 lb yellow squash, quartered and sliced into 1/2″ thick pieces
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed and diced
1 lb tomatoes, diced
1 c. olive oil
1 T. each dried basil, marjoram and oregano
salt and pepper to taste
Contrary to what many cookbooks declare, I don’t believe it’s necessary to salt and drain eggplant to prevent it from being bitter. In my experience, if you gently brown and then sauté the vegetable in olive oil, there is no bitter flavor. And, this saves time!
In a large, heavy pot add 1/2 c. olive oil and heat over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add eggplant and reduce heat, stirring to coat. Allow eggplant to brown, until most of the greenish color is gone. Add oil if necessary. Add zucchini and squash to pot, stirring to coat with oil. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, stirring, and brown. When mushrooms have released their liquid, add tomatoes. Throughout the whole process, continue to add oil, where necessary, if mixture seems dry. Add herbs, toss gently and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
I love Ratatouille served alongside grilled chicken, steaks, lamb, inside omelettes, tossed with pasta or sprinkled with feta or goat cheese crumbles. Or all of the above! It’s the most versatile of vegetable dishes; uncomplaining, simple and only requesting the freshest produce you can find. Of course, spelling it is a completely different question.