I first experienced ratatouille at a family dinner prepared by my post-France sister-in-law. I had heard of it (along with the rest of America unfamiliar with French cuisine) through Pixar’s imaginative film of the same name. This ratatouille doesn’t involve a rat, although I would love a tiny-small kitchen helper to retrieve ingredients and use his little hands to crush herbs. Aw.
It’s summer, and it’s HOT, so normally a stew would be out of the question, but the ample amount of summer produce and the one-pot-ness of this stew makes it a breeze to prepare, and you can make enough to last for 4-5 more dinners. So not only do you enjoy a taste of the French countryside once, but multiple times in the same week! Crafting this stew, I used whatever I had remembered from lending a helping hand to the prep of the first ratatouille I had ever tasted in combination with gleaning information from various recipes that claimed authenticity. (Every time I search for an authentic recipe, I come to the conclusion that everyone’s recipe is authentically their own.)
I’m a fan of leftovers in the summer. The dish gets better and better as it ages in the fridge, too, which is a major plus. Brace yourselves for this freakishly easy dinner. I recommend giving yourself a few hours for prep to finish. If you feel so inclined, bake yourself some bread to serve alongside to sop up the bit of sauce at the bottom of your bowl… or by a baguette from your local bakery.
For this recipe, you’ll need a large 5-6 quart pot to give you ample stir room and to avoid accidentally overfilling.
- 1-1.5 lb. eggplant, cut into 1-2 in. chunks
- 1-1.5 lb. mixture of zucchini and yellow summer squash, also cut into 1-2 in. chunks
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 in. chunks
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 28 oz. can of peeled, whole or diced tomatoes
- 1 6 oz. can of tomato paste
- fresh or dried herbs: thyme, parsley, bay leaf, rosemary (essentially a mixture referred to as Herbs de Provence if you get your hands on a blend. or just do what I did and do a mix of what you have. do a quick search on Herbs de Provence.)
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
From the numerous recipes I read, it’s a fundamental part of ratatouille to essentially stir fry each element individually and then combine for the final stew portion of the cooking experience. Before you prep your other ingredients, prep your eggplant FIRST! Salt the chunks and let them sit while you chop everything else. Right before you cook it, take some paper towels and dab the eggplant to remove all of the water that was drawn out by the salt.
I started out putting a small amount of oil in the bottom of the pot over medium-high heat and starting the process with the eggplant. Eggplant is like a sponge! So the oil WILL disappear. I try to toss the eggplant as fast as I can so it at least absorbs equally. I then fried it until the eggplant had color and was mostly cooked, soft, but still with a bite. Transfer the eggplant to a bowl and set aside.
Add in a little bit more oil and let it heat up. Add in your squash (zucchini & yellow summer Squash) and stir fry it until there’s some browning and the squash is lightly cooked and just beginning to soften. Dump this in the bowl with the eggplant.
Add more oil to the pan and sauté the onion and bell pepper until a little brown on the edges. Add in your garlic and stir. Let this cook until the garlic is quite fragrant, no more than 15-20 seconds. You don’t want to char the garlic, just release the flavor.
Next, drain the tomatoes and add them to the pot. If you’re using whole, feel free to roughly chop them, or you can just smash them in the pot.
Add in your herbs. I would guesstimate that I used about 1/4 tsp. of what I had and a few bay leaves. Feel free to salt and pepper at this point and give it a stir.
Finally, dump in the vegetables you had set aside. Bring the juice to a rapid simmer, cover, and lower the heat to a low-medium setting. Let this go untouched for about half and hour. After that, put in the tomato paste and cover. Let this cook for 15 minutes.
Return to the pot and give it a stir to distribute the somewhat “melted” tomato paste and move the veggies around. The tomato paste will help thicken and also deepen the flavor a bit. Return the lid and cook for another 15-30 minutes, depending on how long it takes for your veggies to finish and the flavors to meld. For reference, I aimed for almost-mushy-edge-of-disintegration eggplant texture. The squash will stay fairly firm compared to the eggplant.
The result is a hearty vegetarian stew that celebrates the abundance of summer produce. Enjoy!