I love Ratatouille and I feel like I have been making it for years, and I guess in a way I have. I started by making a Greek Caponata one night because in the three months of college that I sprung to get myself cable I watched way too much of the Food Network and Giada made it. The greek caponata was good in that it had enough flavor but it always made way more than Boyfriend and I could ever eat in a single sitting and the leftovers usually went bad, also it had potatoes in it and boyfriend is not the biggest fan of potatoes. So I modified the recipe that Giada had made, I chucked the potatoes and I halved the eggplant (you can’t even find eggplant that’s fresh in Maine so there is very little point in trying) I kept the zucchini at it’s full amount and stuck with a full red onion but switched to a can of diced tomatoes instead of fresh. This was a great way to eat the caponata but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I sort of gave up on it as a meal.
I graduated from college and moved to Boston, land of the locavore and the farmer’s market. What a beautiful thing the farmer’s market is – everything is so accessible it’s a T-stop or a short bus ride away and you have bags of fresh veggies on the cheap and they actually *gasp* seem to be fresh. While not exactly unfamiliar with the idea of fresh fruits and vegetables (fresh from a farmer) I hadn’t seen a lot of fresh vegetables that I could pick up from a bin that I didn’t harvest and weed myself. Growing up we had a huge vegetable garden and that was my summer job, the weeding and care were among my numerous responsibilities over the summer months, from planting in the pouring rain to harvesting rutabagas well into the darkness on the night that they called for the dreaded “first-frost.” I lived in that garden. sneaking peas before they were ripe and claiming the first cherry tomato as mine. I loved it and I loved the fresh veg that came from it more.
So here I am now in my mid-twenties and just finding fresh vegetables again after years if missing out – did you know you can get fresh eggplant for 3/$1 if you talk to the right farmer? or that 2nd run tomatoes make a delicious and easy tomato soup, not to mention cheap? So here I was, second run tomatoes, red pepper, eggplant, and zucchini in hand and panicking for ways to use them before Boyfriend reprimanded me for food waste, when from the dregs of my memory I saw a bowl full of big unwieldy chunks being tossed by hand in my tiny college kitchen and I had a plan. I didn’t want the chunks but the more dainty looking ratatouille that I saw in the movie of the same name, something elegant and layered that made the eater wish for more if only to gaze at the beauty of it. The first time I layered the whole thing like a lasagne in large flat sections that worked their way up the oval shaped baking dish Boyfriend had let me get at our first (and terrifying) trip to Ikea. This was great in principal and looked stunning but it was a) a total nuisance to cut and b) way more food tahn two people need at any given time. So I adjusted and came up with this!
Ratatouille, My Way
Note: Yes I know it does look like the Ratatouille from that movie with a rat (I like that it’s pretty) but it can be cubed up and baked for a more homely feel.
1 Medium sized onion chopped to a coarse dice (1/2″ pieces is fine)
2 Cloves fresh garlic, pressed or minced
2-3 Medium sized fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped (the fresher the better, I liked the heirlooms in mine)
1 Medium Size eggplant, or 2 small (make sure they’re fresh or they’ll be bitter)
1 Medium sized zucchini, yellow or green is up to you
1 Sweet Red Pepper
2-3 Tbs Olive oil, plus more for the pan
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 Fresh Thyme Sprigs
Heat the Olive Oil in a medium sized skillet and add the garlic and onion. Saute the garlic and onion until the onion is slightly translucent (about 5 minutes) over medium heat. Toss in the tomatoes and turn the heat down to low, med-low and cover, stirring occassionally for about 10 mins. Drizzle Olive Oil in the bottom of a bakable dish (I do sincerely like my Ikea stoneware, it was cheap and seems durable enough for a girl on a budget) and make sure it has a light coating (this is flavor too so use a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil). Add your sauteed tomatoes, garlic, onion mix to the dish and spread it evenly over the bottom. If you have cubed your vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper) put them all in a large bowl and gently toss them by hand with 1 Tbs of Olive oil and salt and pepper, if you’re feeling adventurous a little balsamic vinegar is also a nice touch. If you want your Ratatouille to look like mine cut your vegetables into 1/4″ thick rounds and stack them alternately around the pan in a circle until you reach the center (this is best in a circular or oval dish), drizzle Olive Oil over these veggies and top with Salt and Pepper to taste. With both versions add a couple of fresh sprigs of thyme to the top and cut a form fitting piece of parchment to cover the whole dish. Cover and bake it for 45 Minutes, until the veggies are tender and your entire apartment smells of tomato and zucchini, I’m on a late summer veg kick what can I say! I suggest using this time to pour yourself a glass of wine and relaxing, preferably with a good book, Heirloom by Tim Stark is quite good.
Serve this with a nice salad, with sweeter greens – baby spinach or romaine! YUM!!! Ratatouille, it’s homey and makes me feel good!