There are certain Mediterranean* dishes that just scream “summer” and ratatouille is one of them. (Gazpacho is another one.) Of course, now that I’ve said that, I really think this dish will work any time of year. Yes, even when the staple ingredients — eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes — are not in season.
*FYI, I did write recently in The Seattle Times that I would be focusing less on the Mediterranean diet, because I think it’s been unfairly held up on a pedestal. That said, I do enjoy Mediterranean dishes and include them in my repertoire.
Unlike, say, a fresh vegetable dish, where seasonality matters (no tasteless mushy tomatoes, please), when you stew veggies this way, it’s more forgiving. I enjoy making a big batch that I can eat for days, especially when it’s too hot to want to cook every evening.
Perception vs. reality
I’ve made this recipe several times, but one particular time stands out. I had made it a day ahead of time, and after we had it for dinner the next evening, my husband said, “I know you worked really hard on this, but…”
I swear, I thought he was going to say, “…but it wasn’t that good.” (I don’t know why I thought this, because, again I’d made it several times and he always liked it.) But no, he finished, “…can you make it every week?”
As for the “working hard” part, this recipe isn’t complicated. It does take some time chopping and being near the stove, true. However, if you have all of the stovetop ingredients chopped and ready to go before you start sautéing, it’s a breeze.
As you keep an eye on things and stir the contents of the pan occasionally, there’s plenty of time to drink a cup of coffee — or glass of wine — load or unload the dishwasher, clean up the bowls you’re done with, chat with your spouse, friend, child or pet, and so on. I guess it’s nice that the finished product fools whoever you serve it to that you were working like a fiend in the kitchen!
This classic Provençal dish features a wealth of summer vegetables, cooked in olive oil and flavored with basil and tyme.
- 1 pound eggplant sliced crosswise into 1-inch thick rounds
- 4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound zucchini trimmed, halved lengthwise, and sliced into 1/2-inch thick half-moons
- 1 medium yellow onion thinly sliced
- 1 large red bell pepper cored, seeded and chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves thinly sliced
- 4 Roma (plum) tomatoes seeded and chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1/4 cup fresh basil finely chopped
Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 400F.
Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (line with foil or parchment paper for easier cleanup).
Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl, and brush onto the eggplant, then flip the slices and brush the second sides. Each side should have a thin coating of oil.
Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the slices halfway through. When done, the slices will be soft and lightly browned on each side. Remove from the oven and cool. Cut into rough 1-inch pieces and set aside.
Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or a large, deep skillet. Add the zucchini half-moons and sauté, stirring occasionally, until golden and just tender, about 10-12 minutes. Remove the zucchini to a large bowl, taking care to leave any excess oil behind in the pan.
Reduce the heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon olive oil if there is no oil left in the pan (this sometimes happens). Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Add the bell pepper and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender but not browned, about 6 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, salt, thyme, and bay leaf and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the eggplant and zucchini, stir everything together, and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt as necessary. Discard the bay leaf and stir in the basil.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
This is a perfect summer dish, not just because it makes the most of high-summer vegetables, but because it’s easy to double and is even better made ahead. The leftovers work beautifully with some grilled salmon or chicken on the side, or perhaps a bean dish. For breakfast (or heck, lunch or dinner), top with a fried or poached egg. To keep with the casual summer theme, please not that you don’t need to be precise with the amounts. When you’re dealing with whole ingredients like eggplants and zucchini, it’s hard to make it come exactly to a pound. The recipe will still be just fine!
Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.
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