Ratatouille is one of those things I’ve always wanted to try but never got around to. I’ve never been terribly talented at French cooking, and the recipe has so many steps that I felt a little intimidated. This was a mistake. Ratatouille is slap-your-mama delicious. How could you go wrong with the scrumptious combination of fresh, crisp vegetables and juicy tomatoes, all swimming in a slow simmered, savory broth? And then topped with cheese? Oh, yes.
It was my two-year-old who finally convinced me to try the recipe. He received a collection of four books for his birthday, based on Ratatouille the movie. I have read him the story about Remy the rat, who becomes a chef, so many times that we both have it memorized. When I asked him one gloomy afternoon if he’d like me to make ratatouille, his eyes lit up and he said, “YEP!” I had to do it.
We were not sorry. Callum is one of those pesky toddlers with picky eating habits, and he ate every single bite of his own plate, half of mine, and then went back for seconds. He even ate the eggplant! I was sold. I’ll be making this a weekly feature in our household.
Ratatouille has a lot of steps and can seem complicated, but the recipe I’ve posted below is a little less tricky than some. It is still every bit as delicious.
½ large purple eggplant, cubed
1 medium sized zuchinni, cut into chunks
1 medium sized yellow squash, cut into chunks
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
1 small yellow or white onion, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes in juice (you can also substitute fresh tomatoes that have been stewed)
1 fresh tomato, sliced
2 medium sized carrots, cut into chunks
½ package of white button or portabello mushrooms, sliced
3 large gloves garlic, sliced (NOT minced)
parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
vegetable stock and/or fake chicken stock (I used half of each)
juice of ½ lemon (a couple of tbsp)
Start off by cutting the eggplant into cubes, placing on a bowl or plate, and salting liberally. Let it sit for at least an hour. The salt will draw the bitter juices from the eggplant. If there’s a lot of excess liquid you can pour it off, otherwise, just blot the eggplant dry when you’re ready to cook.
In a large sized saucepan, heat the olive oil, then add onion, peppers, garlic, mushrooms, and carrots. Saute on medium heat until the onions start to sweat and caramelize, then turn down to low.
In a separate skillet, heat more olive oil, then add squash, zucchini, and eggplant. Cook on medium high until both sides of the vegetables are a deep golden brown and slightly crispy. You want them to be browned and have a nice texture to them. Once they’ve reached that point, add them to the saucepan with the onions and other vegetables. Mince several handfuls of basil (however much you think is the right amount, double it ““ this dish loves lots of basil), and add it to the pot. Season with salt, pepper, and whatever other herbs and spices you like (thyme, cayenne, and rosemary are all good additions). Add can of tomatoes, undrained, and turn the heat up to medium. Simmer for a few moments until all the vegetables are heated through and combined, then add your stock. Start with two cups, and add more if you need it. Add the lemon juice, stir to combine, and allow the mixture to simmer so all the flavors combine. The liquid will thicken a bit but it should remain fairly soupy. If it is too thick, add more stock.
Take an oven safe dish and drizzle with a little olive oil. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Once the mixture has been simmering for about five minutes, take a slotted spoon and remove all of the vegetables, adding them to the baking dish. Make sure you drain them well with each spoonful so you don’t end up with lots of stock in your baking dish. Once all of the vegetables are in the baking dish, cover with the sliced tomatoes, season with salt, pepper, and a few more drizzles of olive oil. Then stick them in the oven to cook.
Your sauce should still be simmering on the stove. Turn the heat down to medium low and allow it to keep simmering so the flavors develop and the sauce thickens.
After about ten minutes it should be ready to serve. Take the baking dish out of the oven, and drain off any excess liquid back into the sauce pot.
This dish can be served several ways, and people have different preferences to how they eat it. You can mix the vegetables and sauce back together to form a kind of soup, or you can serve the veggies over rice, potatoes or pasta, and pour the sauce on top. However you serve it, make sure to top it with lots of chopped green onions, shredded parmesan, and fresh basil. It is best served with French bread to sop up the sauce.
Don’t skip any of the steps of this recipe. It’s very tempting because the recipe is so involved, but skipping any steps makes it taste different and it won’t be as good. This is perfect for a Christmas Eve dinner, and leftovers are even better!