Monday, August 16, 2010

Meatless Mondays: Height-of-Summer Ratatouille

A few years ago, I realized that I didn't have a go-to ratatouille recipe. So, I began to investigate, looking up recipes in cookbooks and food blogs. Many of the recipes I found called for cooking each vegetable individually, wiping the pan out in between. Others called for baking the ratatouille rather than making it on the stove. As I pored through the recipes, I began to realize that I didn't actually want a lightly cooked ratatouille, with each vegetable maintaining its texture and individual flavor (see Smitten Kitchen for a gorgeous example). I didn't really want to turn on my oven either. What I wanted, actually, was sludge.

Not literal sludge, of course, but I wanted a savory tomato-y stew, with the flavors melded into a medley of high summer. I wanted ratatouille that I could sprinkle with Parmesan and eat over cous cous or heap onto a slice of thick bread. I wanted ratatouille that could double as a thick pasta sauce, if necessary. With summer vegetables at their height of flavor and plentiful, to boot, I didn't really want to treat them delicately, at least not right then.

The one recipe I found that seemed suitable for my purposes was in Nigella Lawson's How to Eat. This is a cookbook I tend to look through more than cook from, but no matter. What I liked about her recipe was that it didn't call for any complicated procedures. It also referenced Elizabeth David, which seemed like a good sign.

In the years since, I've continued to use Nigella's recipe as a template, but I've remained flexible about exact amounts and cooking times. The one thing that's been consistent is that I've added the vegetables one at a time to the pot, starting with the onions and ending with the tomatoes. I also probably cook it longer than Nigella recommends, since after all what I'm aiming for is my delicious vegetable sludge, which tastes even better after it's sat for a day and given the flavors time to meld.

High summer is a fleeting time, I know, but I've decided that it's long enough for several different kinds of ratatouille. I'm tempted by Deborah Madison's version, which contains caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, and by Mark Bittman's baked version (from How to Cook Everything), especially once it cools down a bit and turning the oven on won't cause the kitchen to become an inferno. In the meantime, though, I have already stowed some of my sludgy version in the basement freezer. I know it will cheer me up immeasurably once the plentiful eggplants and tomatoes in my garden are only a sweet summery memory.

(I've noticed that ratatouille is much more photogenic in its raw form (above) than cooked. Ah well.)

(loosely adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat)

Please note that the amounts really are flexible, depending on your taste and what's available.


  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large or 2 medium globe eggplants, sliced or cubed
  • 4- 5 smallish zucchini and/or yellow squash, halved and sliced
  • 3 large sweet red peppers
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 2-6 tbsps olive oil (Nigella recommends more, but I usually don't use more than a few tablespoons)
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp ground coriander or coriander seed (I skipped this)
  • fresh basil and/or fresh parsley


  • Slice the onions into thin half-moons
  • Mince garlic
  • Chop eggplant and zucchini into slices or small chunks
  • Cut the peppers in half, remove cores & seeds, cut into thin strips
  • Skin tomatoes by plunging into boiled water for a few minutes & then slipping the skins off. Halve them scoop out seeds & cut into chunks (I skipped this step and just chopped the tomatoes up.)
  • Cook in this order: onions first, then eggplant, zucchini, garlic, peppers and finally tomatoes
  • Heat the oil in a thick bottomed wide pan
  • Cook the onions until soft but not brown
  • Add the eggplant and cook several minutes until they start to shrink down and then add the squash,
  • Continue on like this with the peppers and garlic (add more oil as needed)
  • Cover the pan & cook gently for 40 mins, checking to make sure the bottom isn't sticking. Stir as needed.
  • Add the tomatoes, coriander (if using), salt & pepper
  • Cook for another 30-40 minutes until all vegetables are soft but not mushy
  • Stir in the basil or parsley
  • Eat, preferably at room temperature. Ratatouille keeps well in the fridge for up to 5 days; it also freezes well.

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