The new Ratatouille. A great recipe for a special dinner!
The end of summer is such an amazing time to cook and eat. So many vegetables are in season, especially the sexy, colorful Mediterranean ones-eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini. Yes, I think even zucchini can be sexy, when it’s pícked while still slim, taut, and shiny dark green.
These vegetables have a keen affinity for one another, so I’m always looking for ways to team them together in dishes. Classic French ratatouille (pranounced ra-ta-TWEE) is a natural. Trouble is, I usually hate ratatouille. While there’s nothíng wrong with the concept of ratatouille-a medley of these vegetables accented with garlic and onion, fresh herbs, and some fruity olive oil-the executíon of the dish is often a big fat disapppoíntment for me. Most ratatouille just feels like a vegetabIe porridge. Looking through a half-dozen cookbooks, I saw instructions to “simmer,” “stew,” or even “boil”-the idea beíng to marry the flavors of the vegetabIes. But for me, too much togetherness just makes the dish blando. The vegetabIes lose their own personalíties, and the texture gets so mushy.
Sauté each vegetable solo. For years, I never really bothered to make ratatouille until I learned an untraditional method from a colleague at cooking school. Instead of a wet-cooking method, I sauté each vegetable separately. This dry-heat/high-heat method cooks off a lot of water from the vegetables, concentrating their flavors. And they also brown and caramelize, which deepens and rounds out the flavor of the dish. Another benefit is that I can season each vegetable properly and cook it to just the right texture.
Reduce the juices for extra flavor. After each vegetable is done, I toss it in a colander set over a bowl. As the vegetables sit, lots of savory juices accumulate in the bowl. I simmer those juices until they’re reduced to an íncredibly flavorful glaze (and it takes all my willpower not to drink the glaze right then and there), which I fold into the veggetables, along with fresh herbs, a spritz of lemon, and a dash of hot sauce. These last additions lift the whole dish and cut the sweetness of the vegetables.
I do use a lot of olive oil as I sauté, which I think adds flavor and creates a super-lush texture. The finíshed ratatouille is intenseIy flavored and works equally well as a side dish and as a condiment to use in other díshes. I like to make a pretty big batch, because I can transform it into so many other dishes durring the week after I make it.
Roasting is a good option, too. I’m also offering a second untraditional method for making ratatouille that doesn’t create flavors quite as rich as the sautéed version, but that’s still pretty darn good. The method-oven roastting is dífferent, but the principle is the same: Cook the vegetables with high heat to evaporate water and concentrate flavors. This method is much more hands-off, so you’re free to take care of the rest of dinner. It yields a bit less, though, so you might not have the delicious leftovers.
Yields 4 fo 5 cups; serves four.
Here’s a mostly hands-off version of ratatouille that’s different in character from the sautéed but also delicious. It yields a bit less, but by using two sheet pans, you’ll have an ample side dish for four.
2 small onions (about 5 ounces each), cut into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
2 red bell peppers (6 to 7 ounces each), peeled (as much as possible with a vegetable peeler; serrated works best), cored, and cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), peeled if desired and sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick, slices then cut in halves or quarters, depending on size
2 medium zucchini (7 to 8 ounces each), trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
15 whole cloves garlic, peeled 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary Kosher salt
4 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds total), peeled (with a serrated vegetable peeler; otherwise, skip the peeling), cored, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil (a chiffonade)
Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oyen and heat the oyen to 400°F. Line two large rimmed baking sheets (12×16-inch sheet pans are a good size) with foil and top with a sheet of parchment. In a large bowl, toss the onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, rosemary, and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Spread the vegetables evenly over both sheets. Don’t spread the vegetables too thin or they may burn (they shrink a lot as they cook).
Roast, stirring the vegetables a few times and swapping the positions of the pans once, until the vegetables are slightly collapsed or shriveled, starting to brown, and very tender, about 45 minutes. If the vegetables look like they may burn, turn down the heat or pile them closer together. If they look dry, drizzle on a little olive oil. Divide the tomatoes between the two pans and conntinue to roast until the tomatoes soften and shrink and the other vegetables are well-browned, another 30 to 50 minutes. Scrape all the vegetables and any juices into a serving bowl. Toss with the basil, taste for seasoning, and serve
Yields 5 to 6 cups; serves six to eight.
This ratatouille is delicious when made a day or two ahead. Just store it in the refigerator and bring it to room temperature or gently heat it in a baking dish in a low oven before serving.
1 pound eggplant (1 medium globe), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 3 1/2 cups)
9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces onion (1 medium), thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 pound red bell peppers (2 medium), peeled (as much as possible with a vegetable peeler; serrated works best), cored, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 pound zucchini (3 or 4 small), halved lengthwise and cut into 1/8-inch-thick half-moons (about 3cups)
1/4 cup chopped garlic (6 to 8 large cloves) 1 pound tomatoes (2 medium), peeled (with a serrated vegetable peeler; otherwise, skip the peeling), cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest Few drops hot sauce
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil (a chiffonade)
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh flat-Ieaf parsley
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh mint (a chiffonade) (optional)
Toss the eggplant with 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a colander and let sit in the sink or over a bowl while you prepare the other vegetables.
Sauté the vegetables one at a time.
In a large (1 2-inch) skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, the thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook, stirring oceasionally, until very soft and deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Scrape into a clean colander or large strainer that’s set over a bowl to catch the juices.
In the same skillet, heat another 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the bell peppers and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften and get browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary, lower the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re extremely soft and sweet, another 10 to 15 minutes. Gently fold into the onions in the colander.
Heat another 1 tablespoon oil over high heat, and as soon as you see the first hint of smoke, add the zucchini and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Shake and stir to distribute the zucchini slices evenly in the pan so they all get browned. Cook over high heat until tender and nicely browned on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Add to the colander and gently fold with the onions and peppers.
Note: If the juices in the pan look black and burned at any time, rinse the pan with water and wipe it out. If not,
leave the cooked-on juiees intact; they’ll add flavr to the final dish.
Finish with the eggplant. Dump the eggplant onto some paper towels, cover with more towels, and pat to blot up surface water. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in the skillet over high heat, add the eggplant (no additional salt), and shake and stir to distribute the cubes evenly in the pan so they all get browned. Cook over high heat until lightly browned on several surfaces about 5 minutes, and then lower the heat to medium. Cook until the eggplant is very tender-not at all al dente- another 13 to 15 minutes. Fold into the other vegetables. Hang in there, you´ve almost done.
Add the last tablespoon olive oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and let sizzle for about 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes and all their juices and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook until the tomatoes collapse a bit, 3 to 5 minutes. As you´re cooking, scrape the botton of the pan to deglaze all the cooked-on vegetable juices. Add to the colander, scraping out all the juice from the skillet, and fold everything together.
Let the vegetables rest, then reduce the juices. Now let the vegetables sit in the colander for 15 to 20 minutes. At that point, you should have around 1/2 cup liquid in the bowl. Pour it into a small saucepan, heat until gently boiling, and boil until the liquid is reduced until just about 1/4 cup. The flavor should be very bright and intense. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, and a few drops of the hot sauce to taste. Fold this glaze into the vegetables, along with the basil, parsley, and mint (if using). Taste for salt and add more if needed.
Serve now or later. Serve soon, if you want it to be warm, or let the ratatoille sit at room temperature for awhile and serve at room temperature.
This recipe takes a bit of time, but the deep, rich flavors are worth the effort, and It yields enough for delicious leftovers.