Several days ago, the Master Taste Tester suggested that we should have Ratatouille for dinner. I thought – great! In my dim distant memory, I remember making Ratatouille once before, but didn’t really remember anything about how I made it. Therefore, I turned to Julia Child in The Way to Cook for guidance.
As she indicated,”numerous recipes for this wonderful Provençal eggplant casserole exist, and I think the best of them direct that the vegetables cook separately, then finish with a short communal simmer. Thus each one, rather than entering into a mish-mash relationship, retains its own character.” Yet again, Julia got it right! In fact, the Master Taste Tester was so impressed that he said that this would be our staple should we ever decide to go vegetarian!
The ingredients for this wonderful dish include eggplant, Kosher salt, zucchini, olive oil, thyme, oregano, onions, green bell peppers, garlic, and tomato pulp.
Starting with the eggplant, I removed the green cap and cut the eggplant into ⅜-inch crosswise slices. I salted the eggplant lightly on each side and spread the slices on paper towels to drain. After 20 minutes, the eggplant had given up a lot of its moisture. I patted each piece dry with paper towels, and arranged them on a large rimmed baking sheet that I had lined with non-stick aluminum foil that had been lightly oiled. I lightly brushed each piece with olive oil, and sprinkled on some dried thyme and oregano. I covered the baking sheet with aluminum foil and baked the eggplant in a preheated 400° F oven for 15 minutes, just until it was tender.
While the eggplant was cooking, I turned my attention to the zucchini. I scrubbed the zucchini, cut off the stem and bud ends, and cut them lengthwise into ⅜-inch slices. Had the zucchini been large, I would have cut the lengthwise slices into 2-inch slices. As was the case with the eggplant, I arranged the zucchini slices on paper towels and lightly salted both sides of the pieces. After 20 minutes, I patted each piece dry with paper towels. I added 2 Tablespoons of olive oil to a 12-inch skillet, browned the zucchini lightly on both sides over medium heat, and removed the zucchini to paper towels to drain.
In the same skillet that I had used for the zucchini, I sautéed the sliced onions over medium heat until they were tender. This took about 5 minutes. Then I added the bell pepper and garlic to the onions, increased the heat to medium high, and continued cooking the mixture for several minutes until the bell pepper slices were tender. Before adding the tomato, I set aside about ½-cup for later use, and added the rest to the onion/bell pepper mixture. I continued cooking the mixture over medium high heat for several more minutes until the rendered juices from the tomatoes had evaporated.
Now it was time to assemble the Ratatouille. I set aside four of the best looking eggplant slices, and layered the different ingredients in a covered casserole dish as follows: (1) ⅓ of the onion/bell pepper/tomato mixture; (2) half of the zucchini; and (3) half of the remaining eggplant. I repeated the layering one more time.
To finish, I added the remaining ⅓ of the onion/bell pepper/tomato mixture, the reserved eggplant slices and the reserved tomatoes. Into a preheated 350° F oven the covered casserole went for about 25 minutes, until everything was hot and bubbly.
1 pound fresh shiny firm eggplant
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt, divided
3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 pound zucchini
1 pound (3½ cups) sliced onions
2 large green bell peppers (2 cups sliced)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
3 cups tomato pulp (fresh tomatoes peeled, seeded, juiced; or part fresh tomatoes and seeded canned plum tomatoes)
Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick aluminum foil; lightly oil. Set aside.
Remove green caps of eggplant. Do not peel; cut into crosswise slices ⅜-inch thick. Lightly salt each side of eggplant slices (about 1½ teaspoons) and place on paper towels. Let stand for 20 minutes; pat dry with paper towels. Arrange slices on oiled baking sheet; lightly brush with olive oil. Sprinkle thyme and oregano on slices; cover with aluminum foil. Bake in preheated 400° F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, just until tender. Do not overcook. Remove from oven, and remove aluminum foil.
Reduce the oven heat to 350° F.
Scrub the zucchini. Cut off the stem and bud ends, but do not peel. Cut lengthwise into 2-inch slices ⅜-inch thick. Salt the zucchini slices (about 1¼ teaspoons) and place on paper towels. Let stand for 20 minutes; pat dry with paper towels. Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini slices; brown lightly on both sides and remove to paper towels to drain.
In the same skillet that was used for the zucchini, sauté the onions until tender but not browned, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium high; stir in the bell pepper slices and minced garlic. Cook for several minutes until fairly tender. Set aside ½-cup of the tomatoes. Fold the rest into the onion/bell pepper mixture and remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt. Cook over medium high heat until the tomatoes have rendered their juice and most of the juice has evaporated. Add additional salt if necessary.
To assemble, set aside 4 of the best looking slices of eggplant for final decoration. Arrange the rest of the vegetables in 2 layers, starting and ending with the onion/bell pepper/tomato mixture. Arrange the reserved eggplant and tomato decoratively over the top. Cover and heat in 350° F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until mixture is heated through and bubbly. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Note: Ratatouille can be served hot, warm or cold.