No. 203: Easy French Ratatouille

Weekend afternoons are the perfect time for slow, simmering types of meals that need a lot of babysitting or some extra time.

Ratatouille is just one of those dishes. Very simple, but a bit time consuming when you think about chopping all the veggies, giving them each some time to saute separately, and then finally bringing it all together to simmer.

I had just read a great ratatouille recipe in Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life when I also happened to stumble upon this simple version on The Kitchn.

I ended up using the latter version, though I loved Molly's idea to roast the eggplant in large rounds before chopping and adding to the pot.

Ingredients

Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 large eggplants
2 yellow onions
3 bell peppers
6-8 medium zucchini
4 large tomatoes
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
3-4 sprigs thyme
1/4 cup loosely packed basil, sliced into ribbons
Extra basil for garnishing
Salt and pepper

Flavor Extras from The Kitchn: For something different try adding a tablespoon of smoked paprika, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a quarter cup of red wine, or a splash of vinegar. We went with smoked paprika and some pepper flakes.

To make

Peel the eggplants (if desired, I skipped this step) and chop them into bite-sized cubes. Transfer them to a strainer set over a bowl and toss with a tablespoon of salt. Let the eggplant sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Dice the onions and roughly chop the peppers, zucchinis, and tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Mince the garlic. The vegetables will be cooked in batches, so keep each one in a separate bowl.

Warm a teaspoon of olive oil in a large (at least 5 1/2 quart) Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt. Sauté until the onions have softened and are just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the peppers and continue cooking until the peppers have also softened, about another 5 minutes.

Saute onion and pepper

Transfer the onions and peppers to a clean bowl.

Add another teaspoon of oil to the pot and sauté the zucchini with a generous pinch of salt until the zucchini has softened and is beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Zucchini saute

Transfer the zucchini to the bowl with the onions and peppers.

Rinse the eggplant under running water and squeeze the cubes gently with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible. Warm two teaspoons of oil in the pan and sauté the eggplant until it has softened and has begun to turn translucent, about 10 minutes.

Eggplant saute

Transfer the eggplant to the bowl with the other vegetables.

During cooking, a brown glaze may gradually build on the bottom of the pan. If it looks like this glaze is beginning to turn black and burn, turn down the heat to medium. You can also dissolve the glaze between batches by pouring 1/4 cup of water or wine into the pan and scraping up the glaze. Pour the deglazing liquid into the bowl with the vegetables.

Warm another teaspoon of olive oil in the pan and sauté the garlic until it is fragrant and just starting to turn golden, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, whole sprigs of thyme. As the tomato juices begin to bubble, scrape up the brown glaze on the bottom of the pan.

Tomatoes

Add all of the vegetables back into the pan and stir until everything is evenly mixed. Bring the stew to a simmer, then turn down the heat to low.

Veggies in pot

Stirring occasionally, simmer for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 1/2 hours. Shorter cooking time will leave the vegetables in larger, more distinct pieces; longer cooking times will break the vegetables down into a silky stew.

90 minutes later

When finished cooking, remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Just before taking the ratatouille off the heat, stir in the basil.

Leftovers can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to three months. Ratatouille is often better the second day, and it can be eaten cold, room temperature, or warmed.

The results

The first step of this recipe should read, "Sweetly ask Mr. McCormick if he will help you chop veggies." Luckily for me, he was game to chop up the garlic, tomatoes and peppers and save some serious time.

I simmered this ratatouille for a solid 90 minutes and the final product was hearty, warm and filling. The smoked paprika and red pepper we added gave the dish some additional heat that we enjoyed.

Final bowl

This recipe was easy to cut in half and we have plenty of leftovers for eating alone, adding to omelets or covering polenta. You could also add any other veggies you have on hand - think of ratatouille as the ultimate 'use everything in my fridge' vegetable stew.

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