If ever there was a summer comfort food, ratatouille has got to be it.
It is one dish I eagerly look forward to making every summer when our garden goes into high gear.
Ratatouille typically contains eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and herbs, which are all abundant now.
There are endless variations of this stewed vegetable dish that originated in Nice in southern France. In some versions, the vegetables are simply combined and cooked together for a long period of time until they become very soft.
In other versions, the vegetables are sautéed or browned in stages, combined and then stewed in the oven or on the stovetop. I prefer the latter and only briefly simmer the stew on the stovetop so the vegetables retain their texture.
Eggplant is one of the main ingredients. It’s commonly believed that eggplant automatically has to be salted before cooking to draw out the bitterness. However, it normally has a mild but pleasing bitterness. It’s only when an eggplant gets large and seedy that it develops a pronounced bitter flavor.
For this dish, I salt the eggplant because it will absorb less oil when cooked. Extracting liquid from the eggplant makes it less spongy and more firm, resulting in less oil absorption. After draining and before cooking, pat dry with paper towels to remove the excess moisture and salt.
Another reason I love ratatouille is it’s so versatile. Enjoy it over brown rice, quinoa, couscous or with crusty, toasted or grilled French bread. It can be served hot, room temperature or even cold. You can make it ahead, cool and serve it the following day — the flavor will be even better.
1 small eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
2 tablespoons olive oil (or as needed)
1 small red onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 small red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 can (15-ounce) crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon (heaping) dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
Black pepper, to taste
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil
Crumbled goat cheese (optional)
Place eggplant in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let drain in the sink or over a bowl.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven. Add the onion, reduce heat to medium and cook 3-4 minutes. Add the red bell pepper and continue cooking another 4-5 minutes or until both are lightly browned and beginning to soften. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Add zucchini and yellow squash and cook 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to the bowl with onion and red bell pepper.
Refresh oil if needed. Pat eggplant dry with a paper towel. Add eggplant to pot and cook 4-5 minutes or until lightly browned and softened. Add tomatoes and cook 1-2 minutes.
Add wine, bring to a boil. Add crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano, garlic and vegetables from the bowl. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered 15-20 minutes or until thickened and vegetables are tender.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf. Stir in basil. Serve topped with crumbled goat cheese if desired.