Ratatouille

Vegetable Mélange Simmered with Herbs

Ratatouille is an eminently versatile dish—you can serve it warm or cold, as the center of a meal, or as an hors d’oeuvre or accompaniment. You may want to prepare this a day or two ahead, since it is even better reheated. Some cooks feel strongly that the vegetables in a ratatouille should be puréed; I prefer it when the vegetables retain their shape because the flavor seems better.

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggplants or 6 small ones
  • salt
  • 3 yellow or red peppers
  • 6 zucchini
  • 6 tomatoes
  • 8 tablespoons oil (half peanut, half olive)
  • 3 onions, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil (or parsley)
  • juice of 1 lemon

Method

Peel the large eggplants; leave the small ones unpeeled. Remove the stem ends and cut the large eggplants in 1-inch cubes; slice the small ones into 1-inch slices and cut each slice in half. Put them in a colander with salt and leave them to drain for 30 minutes. Press them down and blot with paper towels. Reserve.

Slice the peppers in half vertically. Remove the seeds and stems and cut into 1-inch strips. Cut off the stem ends of the zucchini and cut them into 1-inch slices. Quarter the tomatoes and squeeze them gently to extract the excess water and seeds.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Add the onions, tomatoes, garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens a bit. Pour the sauce into a bowl.

Clean the skillet with a paper towel and heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in it. Add the eggplant and cook for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper, remove from the skillet, and put in the bowl with the tomato-onion sauce.

Clean the skillet and heat 2 tablespoons more oil in it. Add the peppers, salt, and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Put them in the bowl with the eggplant. Clean the skillet again and heat 2 tablespoons more oil. Add the zucchini and cook until tender—about 10 minutes. Pour the entire bowl of vegetables on top of the cooked zucchini and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of thyme. Add the wine, 1 bay leaf, salt, and pepper to taste and stir well with a wooden spoon. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour, or cover and cook in a 350° oven for about 45 minutes.

Before serving, remove the bay leaves, carefully pour off the excess oil, check the seasoning and add more pepper and salt if necessary. Serve sprinkled heavily with basil—it will keep the dish fresh.

If you serve the ratatouille cold, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the juice of a lemon just before serving.