Gardens and markets are bursting with beautifully fresh produce. Tomatoes are hanging off vines, zucchini are (I suspect) multiplying overnight, eggplants gleam, and sweet peppers, those jewels of the garden, are waiting to be transformed into something delicious. We wait all year for this bounty, and if we are lucky, there is a surplus of these garden goods.
Sure you can be neighbourly and stuff zucchini into mailboxes to help with your personal inventory. I don’t know anyone who would turn down an offering of home-grown tomatoes, but even then, there will come a time when you just have so much, you need to use it up right now. That’s where a dish like ratatouille comes into the picture.
From the French verb “touiller” meaning “to stir up”, Ratatouille originated in the area around present day Nice, as a peasant dish cooked up by farmers. There are various ways to make this comforting dish, but I prefer the method of cooking vegetables separately so they retain their individual taste.
Photo by Renee Kohlman
Making ratatouille is a project for a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s an easy dish, and does take some time to prepare the vegetables and cook them separately. But once they are all in the pot, mingling away, you just sit back and relax and give the pot a bit of a stir every 20 minutes or so. The longer you cook it, the more of a silky stew it will become. For firmer vegetables, cook it for less time.
While it’s perfectly acceptable to eat ratatouille the day it’s made, I prefer it warmed up the next day, after the flavour has developed. Serve warm in a bowl, drizzled with your finest olive oil. Have a hunk of good bread at the ready. You may also toss it with hot pasta, spoon it over polenta, bake eggs in it, and it makes a mighty fine pizza topping. The possibilities are endless!
This recipe makes enough to feed a hungry crowd, still with some left over to freeze. Now, isn’t this better than unloading all that zucchini onto unsuspecting neighbours?
2 large eggplants
2 large onions, diced
3 sweet bell peppers, chopped
8 medium zucchini, chopped
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil
½ cup (120 mL) red wine
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
5 sprigs thyme
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp red chilli flakes
2 tsp (10 mL) honey
½ cup loosely packed fresh basil, sliced into ribbons
3 Tbs (45 mL) balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
basil for garnish
- Chop eggplant into bite-sized chunks. Place them in a strainer set over a bowl and toss with 1 Tbs salt. Let the eggplant hang out here while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.
- The vegetables are cooked in batches, so be sure to place your chopped veg in separate bowls.
- Warm 1 Tbs (15 mL) olive oil in a very large pot - at least 5 litres - over medium high heat. Add the diced onions and a generous pinch of salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until they start to turn brown. Add peppers and cook until softened, 5 minutes. Transfer onions and peppers to large, clean bowl.
- Add another Tbs (15 mL) olive oil and sauté zucchini chunks with a bit of salt until zucchini is soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl with onions and peppers.
- Rinse the eggplant under running water and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Warm 1 Tbs (15 mL) olive oil and sauté eggplant until soft, about 10 minutes. Move it to the bowl with other vegetables.
- Deglaze pan with red wine, being sure to scrape up any brown bits from bottom. Pour this liquid into the bowl with vegetables.
- Heat 1 Tbs (15 mL) olive oil in pot over medium high heat and add minced garlic. Cook until garlic is just golden and fragrant, being sure not to burn it. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme springs, smoked paprika and chilli flakes. As the tomatoes bubble away, be sure to scrape up brown bits from bottom of pot.
- Add all of the cooked vegetables to pot and stir to make sure everything is evenly mixed. Bring stew to a simmer, uncovered, then reduced heat to medium low. Stir occasionally; simmer for at least one hour, longer for a more silky stew.
- Remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Stir in honey, sliced basil and balsamic vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Divide into bowls, sprinkle with more sliced basil and a glug of good olive oil. Serve with fresh bread.
Renée Kohlman is a food writer and pastry chef living in beautiful Saskatoon. She writes restaurant reviews for The Saskatoon StarPhoenix and whips up delicious gluten-free dessert creations at Leyda's Café. Check out her blog sweetsugarbean.ca.