Grilled Vegetable Ratatouille

Ratatouille is a Provençal melange of Mediterranean vegetables sautéed in olive oil, then combined and stewed or baked together. It tastes earthy and wonderful, but at the end you still have to contend with that inch of olive oil floating on the top. Grilling the vegetables reduces the oil without sacrificing flavor. I must admit that I hesitated to include this recipe in a book dedicated to the home cook; in the restaurant it is a breeze, but who is going to go to the trouble of firing up the grill at home to make a dish that one can make with much less effort on top of the stove? I offer it here not just because it tastes good (although that may be the best reason to share any dish) but because it takes a classic dish and makes it better. (There, I’ve said it!) And I have purposely written the recipe for a large amount because you might as well strike while the grill is hot. It keeps well, reheats beautifully, and is versatile as a filling for omelettes, as a sauce for sautéed chicken, as an accompaniment for leg of lamb, or as a filling for a tart or calzone.

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Ingredients

  • 36 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ¾ cup (or as needed) olive oil
  • 3 sprigs thyme (optional)
  • 6 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise in half
  • 2 large green bell peppers
  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • 3 globe eggplants, about 1 pound each, peeled and sliced inches thick
  • 3 large red onions, peeled and sliced 1 inch thick
  • 6 large tomatoes, cut into 1-inch dice Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup fresh basil chiffonade or ¼ cup chopped fresh thyme, oregano, or marjoram

Method

Put the garlic cloves in a large shallow pan and add enough oil to barely cover. Add the thyme sprigs if using. Gently simmer, partially covered, until the garlic is cooked through but not falling apart, about 20 minutes; set aside. (This is a garlic confit, or braised garlic.)

Boil the zucchini halves in a large pot of boiling salted water until cooked but still slightly firm, 2 to 3 minutes. Cool under cold running water to set the color. Skewer each half lengthwise.

Heat the grill or broiler. Brush the zucchini halves with the garlic oil and grill or broil until marked and flavorful, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly, then cut into 1½- to 2- inch chunks; set aside.

Char the peppers over the open flame or under the broiler until blackened on all sides. Transfer to a plastic container with a lid, or a paper or plastic bag. Cover the container or close the bag and let the peppers steam for about 15 minutes. Peel the skins from the peppers; then cut the peppers in half, remove the stems, and scrape out the seeds. Cut into 1-inch wide strips and set aside.

Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with garlic oil. Grill, turning once, until cooked through but not mushy, 4 to 5 minutes. Let cool slightly, then cut into 1½-inch chunks.

Skewer the onion slices and brush both sides with garlic oil. Grill, turning occasionally, until tender, 5 to 6 minutes.

Put the garlic with ¼ cup garlic oil in a large deep saucepan or sauté pan. Add the grilled vegetables and tomatoes and heat over medium heat, stirring very gently so as not to crush the vegetables, until hot, about 6 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, sprinkle with the basil or chopped herb. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.