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via The MetroWest Daily News Food and Dining RSS by Christopher Kimball/CNC correspondent on 9/10/08
Peasant cooking has always put a premium on converting an abundance of seasonal ingredients into dishes that are simple yet interesting. The French classic ratatouille is no exception.
This recipe originated from the regions of
We sauteed, braised, simmered and roasted vegetables as we searched for our favorite version. Most of the recipes were tossed together, although there are recipes for composed ratatouille (called Confit Byaldi), the most famous of which is by Thomas Keller from
There are a few different types of eggplant: Italian, globe and Japanese. Happily we found all had pleasant flavor and held up well to this recipe. We most favored the Japanese, more for their size (they are similar to the zucchini). We tried roasting them in long lengths but found the skin was tough. Instead we cut them in half lengthwise and then into 1/2-inch slices for bite-sized pieces.
Usually eggplant is salted, a technique that was used in several of the recipes we found. However, we discovered with oven roasting we could happily skip that step with favorable results.
We tried moderate to hot oven temperatures and weren't surprised to find hotter was better. At 500 degrees the eggplant pieces were tender and spotted brown in about 20 minutes. To flavor the eggplant, we tossed it with olive oil and salt before cooking. To ensure even cooking we turned the chunks with a spatula about halfway through the cooking. For our usual four to six servings we began with one large Japanese eggplant weighing about 12 ounces.
For the zucchini, we used a couple of medium-sized zucchini or four small, which weigh in at about a pound. We also substituted half of the zucchini for summer squash. Either way, they were treated much like the eggplant: halved and then cut into 1-inch thick slices; tossed with olive oil and seasoned with salt; and roasted in a hot oven until tender and spotted brown. Actually we found the zucchini and eggplant cooked at the same rate and we were able to roast them together in a large rimmed baking sheet.
We also used red and yellow bell peppers in our ratatouille but feel free to use whatever you have on hand. We halved, cored and seeded the peppers and then cut them into 1/2-inch slices. As with the above vegetables we tossed them with oil, seasoned them with salt and roasted them in 500-degree oven. The peppers were tender and spotted brown in about 15 minutes.
One large onion proved adequate for our recipe. We halved the onion pole to pole and then cut each half in half again through the core. Each quarter was then cut into three wedges trying to keep a bit of the core intact. The onion was brushed with oil and placed flat on a baking sheet. Halfway through cooking, we turned the wedges with a spatula for even browning. We found they were browned and tender in about 15 minutes.
Garlic is a must in any ratatouille as its sweet earthy flavor is perfect with the other vegetables. We found roasted garlic overpowering and nixed that idea. After some further testing we most preferred pressing a couple of cloves into olive oil and using it to season the other vegetables as they roasted.
As for herbs, thyme is most commonly used in ratatouille. Along with the garlic, we found adding it to the olive oil resulted in the best flavor. As we coated the vegetables they were flavored with the garlic and thyme. We also found that 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil tossed into the finished ratatouille added great flavor.
Once the vegetables are roasted and combined, the ratatouille can sit for up to a few hours before serving. We also liked the addition of vinaigrette that is drizzled over the finished dish just before serving. Just a small amount did the trick. We used 2 tablespoons oil, 2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar, generous pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper and a teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme.
The ratatouille can be made ahead which allows the flavors to meld. You can serve it hot, warm or at room temperature. If you wish, it can be reheated in a 300-degree oven until heated through; about 15 minutes. Drizzle the vinaigrette just before serving.
For the vegetables:
1/2 cup best quality olive oil
2 medium-sized garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 large Japanese eggplant halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices, about 12 ounces
2 medium zucchini halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch slices, about 16 ounces or one zucchini and one summer squash
2 large bell peppers, one red and one yellow, halved, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 large onion, halved pole to pole, peeled, halved again with each quarter cut through the core into three wedges
4 plum tomatoes cut into four wedges each or 24 cherry tomatoes halved
1/4 cup basil leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons best quality olive oil
2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Generous pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the vegetables: Heat the oven to 500 degrees and adjust a rack to the center position. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Combine the olive oil, garlic and thyme in a small bowl.
Place the eggplant and zucchini on the baking dish and toss with 3 tablespoons of the seasoned oil until evenly covered. Sprinkle with salt. Place in the oven and roast 10 minutes. Toss with a spatula and continue to roast until tender and spotted brown, about 10 minutes longer. Remove vegetables from pan to a large platter or bowl, cover and set aside. Place peppers on baking sheet, toss with a tablespoon of the oil and roast in the same manner as the eggplant and zucchini.
Place onion wedges on aluminum foil-lined sheet, brush with the seasoned oil, turn wedges and brush second side with oil. Season with salt. Roast in oven for about eight minutes or until the side touching the pan is browned. Turn and repeat on second side, about eight minutes longer. Remove and add to bowl with the other vegetables. Place tomato wedges on sheet, brush with oil and season with salt. Roast until spotted dark brown, very soft and the juices have caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add to other vegetables along with the basil leaves and toss to combine. Let sit for 20 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Serve immediately with the vinaigrette or let sit for up to four hours longer.
For the vinaigrette: Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl or jar and whisk together until homogeneous and slightly thickened. Just before serving drizzle over vegetables.
Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.