Late Summer Stew
Versatile ratatouille: hot or cold, lunch or dinner.
Ratatouille is a summer blockbuster—a chance to turn your Coke-and-popcorn loving children on to the surprising wonders of a ragout of eggplant, squash, sweet peppers, and tomatoes. When cooked down, they’re sweet and soft, and nearly unrecognizable as vegetables. And ratatouille makes a brilliant pasta sauce or pizza topping.
What my adult palate likes most about ratatouille is how the stew’s flavors continue to mingle and mellow for days. It makes an exceptionally vibrant, ready-to-go salad.
Ratatouille can be refined or rustic: It’s one of those recipes that invite playful experimentation. You can even make it on the barbecue alongside those burgers. Just toss all the vegetables—sliced thick or even just in half—with fresh oregano, coarse salt, and olive oil, and lightly grill until soft. When cool enough to touch, chop them up, and toss with a clove or two of finely minced garlic.
When I make my more refined version on the stove (get the recipe below), I roast and peel the sweet peppers; caramelize the onions with fresh thyme; slowly stew the eggplant and zucchini in fruity olive oil; and finish the sweet mixture with backyard tomatoes and a healthy dose of fresh basil. The result is luxurious, an almost creamy texture and a sweet, bright flavor. Serve it warm with Burrata—a creamy mozzarella—for a light supper, or pack it with toast points or crackers and bring it to the office.
And who knows? If you rent the charming Pixar film Ratatouille and pack the namesake dish in your kids’ lunchbox, they might gobble up their veggies like a bag of popcorn.
Makes about 4 cups
This version is great hot or cold, and will hold in the refrigerator for several days.
6 large roma tomatoes
1 large red pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, julienned
1 small head garlic, minced
1 globe eggplant, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
2-3 medium zucchini, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
10 basil leaves, cut in a fine chiffonade
1. Remove stems from tomatoes and make a slash on the opposite end. In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch tomatoes for no more than 30 seconds. Plunge in ice water or transfer to a colander and run tap water over them until cooled to room temperature. Under a broiler or over a hot grill, blacken red pepper on all sides. Place in a paper bag until cool. Remove skin and seeds from both tomatoes and pepper. Cut both into 1/2-inch dice.
2. Heat olive oil in a large sauce pot. When hot but not smoking, add onion and cook at very low heat, stirring often, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Turn heat up to high, add garlic, and cook for another minute. Add eggplant, sprinkle with salt and stir to coat. Turn heat down to lowest setting, and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes until eggplant begins to soften, adding more olive oil if it looks dry. 3. Continue cooking until eggplant is completely soft, about 10 minutes. Add zucchini and thyme, stir and cover, letting cook until zucchini softens, about 10 minutes. When ready to serve, add tomatoes, roasted pepper, and basil, and taste for seasoning.