One of the simple pleasures of a summer garden is being able to go out around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and pick zucchini, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, winter savory and basil and make ratatouille for dinner.
I know there are many versions of this Provencal vegetable stew. Some call for cooking each vegetable separately, carefully layering the flavors at the end. I did it that way the first time I made it, maybe even the second time. But, when I saw my neighbors in Provence cooking the vegetables all together, which is much quicker, I started making it that way. Then, I had ratatouille at two different fancy French restaurants where the different vegetables were first roasted with herbs and olive oil, separately of course, before being combined together. I admit, those were pretty delicious versions.
However, I think that the vegetables, straight out of the garden or fresh from a farmers’ market have such pure flavor that not much technique is required to make a scrumptious summer dish. You can be lax about the size of your cubed vegetables – I like my ratatouille a little chunky – and, I don’t peel the tomatoes first, but you could. I usually serve ratatouille with rice or to accompany grilled leg of lamb.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 globe eggplants, or 6 Asian, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 zucchini or crookneck squash or a combination, cubed
3 sweet peppers, seeded and chopped
6 to 8 tomatoes, skinned, and coarsely chopped with their juices
5 or 6 branches of fresh thyme tied together with 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh as well, and a sprig of rosemary
sea salt and pepper to taste
handful of chopped basil leaves
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the onions and sauté until translucent about 2 or 3 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté a minute, then add the eggplant and sauté a few minutes then repeat with the zucchini and the pepper, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and the herbs. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until all the vegetables are soft and blend into a stew, about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove the herbs and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the basil. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Serves about 6 to 8