Summer Meal Series #13: Ratatouille

What’s on the table this summer?

Ratatouille

First, right off the bat, I apologize for the strong green color of the meal in this post. Ratatouille is typically pretty colorful, but the vegetables we chose for this particular instance of it were very green, resulting in a very green looking meal with some specks of red (the tomatoes). Ratatouille is a very flexible dish and can turn out a lot of different colors depending on the specific vegetables you use. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably include some red, orange, and yellow bell peppers to add more color… but it’s all tasty, nonetheless.

What is ratatouille?

Aside from being a Pixar movie, it’s a French stewed vegetable dish, to put it simply. You can use it as a side dish or as a main course (like we did), accompanied with bread or rice if you so choose.

So, yes, this is an all-vegetable meal, acceptable to the vegans out there. You could easily accompany it with a protein if you wish – a chicken breast would go great with it.

What vegetables are in ratatouille?

Pretty much anything you have on hand works in ratatouille – garlic, onions, crepes, zucchini, squash, eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, and pretty much anything else that comes from the garden works in ratatouille. You can include the ones you want and exclude the ones you don’t want.

Ratatouille, the “easy” way

The “easy” way to do ratatouille is to simply stir fry them in order using olive oil. You want to start with the vegetables that require more cooking (onions and bell peppers) and follow it with vegetables that require less cooking (tomatoes). This is the way I’ve typically done it in the past.

So, all you need to do is put a quarter of a cup of olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Then, cut up and add the vegetables in this order: two onions, three bell peppers, two eggplants (in cubes), two zucchini (in cubes), four garlic cloves (minced), two pounds of tomatoes (chopped), and a tablespoon of fresh thyme and two tablespoons of fresh basil. Add each vegetable before you cut up the next one and stir regularly. Then, turn down the heat until it’s just barely simmering, cover the pot, and let it simmer for about forty minutes.

Of course, we didn’t do it the “easy” way. Instead, we broke out our copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and decided to try her method, which was decidedly different. Her method of making ratatouille involves cooking each vegetable separately, then layering them in a pot. This actually looks more like what was prepared in the climax of the movie Ratatouille when done by a person with a lot of visual flair. In the actual movie, the dish prepared was confit byaldi, which has its own look but is basically the same thing.

We based our procedure for making ratatouille on Julia’s method, so here’s what we did.

Our Ratatouille

Ratatouille ingredients

Above, there’s onions, tomatoes, an eggplant, a zucchini, and two green bell peppers (again, I should have used yellow or orange or red to make a more colorful plate…). There’s also a garlic bulb (you could use garlic powder instead), salt, pepper, parsley, and olive oil. That’s pretty much all you need.

The vegetables above are a mix of ones from our own garden plus items purchased at the Ames Downtown Farmers’ Market. Our total out-of-pocket cost was $5.25, according to my count (we were buying in cash at the farmers’ market and although I’m pretty sure I recorded everything, I’m not 100% positive of that).

What We Did: Step by Step

1. We chopped up the eggplants and zucchini.

We peeled them both, then cut the main bodies of each into strips that were about six inches long, 3/4 of an inch thick, and about an inch and a half wide. We then sauteed them over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of olive oil, a bit of salt, and a bit of pepper for about twelve minutes, setting these aside when finished.

2. While these were sauteeing, we chopped up the peppers and onions into thin strips.

Peppers and onions

3. We also blanched the tomatoes.

Blanching is simple – you’re just sticking the tomatoes in boiling water for about 20-30 seconds, then dipping them immediately in ice water.

Why do this? It makes removing the skins from tomatoes very, very easy. All you have to do is cut a slice in the skin and the tomato slides right out of the skin.

Blanching tomatoes

After blanching the tomatoes, we chopped them up as well.

Chopped tomatoes

5. We then sauteed the onions and peppers in the now-empty skillet for about ten minutes (adding another tablespoon of olive oil, a bit of pepper, and a bit of salt).

After that, I turned the heat down to medium-low, put the chopped tomatoes on top, and covered the skillet for ten minutes.

Why do that? This causes the vegetables to “sweat,” much like you would in a sauna. After the ten minutes are up, I basted off all of the extra water and turned the heat up just a bit. From this point on, the liquid that comes out of the vegetables is pretty flavor rich, so I cooked the vegetables for another five minutes, basting up any liquid that came out and pouring it on top of the pile of vegetables.

At this point, it’s time to get out a small pot and actually assemble the ratatouille. All you have to do is layer the two bowls of vegetables you have right now and sprinkle some parsley in between the layers. Put 1/3 of the onion/pepper/tomato mixture on the bottom, sprinkle on some parsley, put 1/2 of the eggplant/zucchini mix, put 1/3 of the onion mix on top, sprinkle with some parsley, put the rest of the eggplant/zucchini mix on top, then put the rest of the onion mix on the very top, sprinkling with a bit more parsley.

Here’s what ours looked like at this point:

Ratatouille in French oven

6. Now, just cook it over medium-low heat on your stove top for ten minutes.

You’ll want to kind of rotate it in the pan a bit so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom, but you also don’t want to upset the layers too much.

Also, if you see any liquid, use your baster and spread that liquid out all over the top of the ratatouille.

What you’ll have in the end is something that’s really strongly flavored (and delicious), but can look a bit odd depending on what vegetables you’ve used. My plate looked like this:

Ratatouille

It was really, really good. My wife and I had it on an evening where the kids were visiting their grandparents, so we’re not sure about the “kid-friendliness” of it. However, we certainly enjoyed it.

Leftover ratatouille has a lot of uses. I like to put it in with scrambled eggs and a healthy dose of hot sauce for breakfast. You can also use it as the base for a really wonderful chicken and vegetable soup. Use your imagination.

Two other things. We also had a cobbler made with fresh peaches for dessert:

Dessert - peach cobbler

Also, the spare bits of the vegetables we used made an excellent addition to our compost bin.

Scraps

You really can make some wonderful stuff with just vegetables and a bit of imagination.

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  1. Nick says:

    One of my favorite dishes!

    A good way to use leftovers is to make a quesadilla out of it.

    I did this a few months ago. It was delicious:
    http://www.macheesmo.com/2010/05/ratatouille-quesadilla/

    Good recipe Trent.

  2. Kelly Perry says:

    yum! and also, cobbler recipe? sure i can google one but if you have a great one…?

  3. Angie says:

    Notice the “crepes” in the line with the vegetables – you should think about hiring an intern to review before you post. Just a thought.

  4. Lydia says:

    I’ve looked forward to every new post in your summer meal series. The recipes are delicious and the steps are so easy to follow.

    Is there any chance you will be posting a fall or winter meal series?

  5. Robin Crickman says:

    Possibly you already know, Trent, but for other readers, ratatouille is also very tasty served cold. My favorite version (I’m not a vegetarian) is to add a pound of pork sausage which I fry first and use pork fat for cooking the vegetables.
    This makes for a complete meal in the finished product. Might not be the healthiest version, but it is still low cost and very tasty.

  6. Fernando says:

    Actually, I’m more interested in that peach cobbler recipe. It looks absolutely delicious.

  7. Johanna says:

    It’s no wonder you think eating like a vegan is a surefire way to lose weight, if this is how you think vegans eat. That plate doesn’t look like it has nearly enough food on it for a grown-up, especially since it’s nothing but non-starchy vegetables. (And did you really put only 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the whole dish?) But maybe you were saving room for dessert. :)

    Tofu makes a nice addition to ratatouille, also – use the firmest stuff you can find, and you might still need to press some water out to prevent it from turning to mush.

    One of Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbooks has a recipe for Persian-style ratatouille, using quinces (not in season yet here, so I used apples) and rose petals (I used rosebud tea) in addition to all the usual vegetables. Very tasty.

  8. cv says:

    Never apologize for too many green vegetables, Trent. :)

    This looks delicious. Veggies themselves do have protein in them, which a lot of people forget, so while it’s not a particularly high-protein meal it’s not as nutritionally deficient as a lot of commenters will probably suggest.

    Of course, my eating habits during farm share season might are such that I might decide that an appropriate side dish for this meal is a green salad, so what I say should be taken with a grain of salt.

    Plus, I think I see garlic bread on a plate in the background of one of the pictures, which would go really well with this meal.

  9. texasaggiemom says:

    Another great version of this is Mario Batali’s pisto manchego from the book “Spain”.

    Here’s a link: http://www.spainontheroadagain.com/recipe_pistomanchego.shtml

    Awesome cold or hot and even better the next day (if there’s any left!).

  10. leslie says:

    I make Ratatouille all the time in the summer. I actually make it in the crockpot so it is even easier. I cook the eggplant for 5 minutes in a skillet with olive oil the throw that in the bottom of a crockpot. Next, I cook a chopped onion in olive oil in the skillet for a few minutes and throw that in the crockpot. Then I layer bell pepper (red usually but any color works), garlic, zucchini, tomatoes and some thyme/salt/pepper. Cook on low for 4 hours then stir in some pesto just before serving. Super yummy – even my kids like it. I generally make it our main dish and often just serve french bread with it.

    FYI – I got this recipe from the book “Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker” by Robin Robertson. I HIGHLY recommend this cookbook. I also have another cookbook by her that is something to the effect of “20 minute meals” that is excellent as well.

  11. Gretchen says:

    Veggies and cobbler. I’d be hungry in about 10 minutes.

    (I think that’s a piece of cobbler on the other plate, not garlic bread.)

  12. Ruth says:

    Can you post the cobbler recipe?

  13. Jenzer says:

    Ratatouille is tasty served over just about any starch (pasta, polenta, baked potatoes). I’ve used it for lasagna filling and pizza topping, too.

  14. Marinda says:

    Leftovers can be reheated and folded into crepes for a lovely light lunch with a side salad.

  15. Rebecca says:

    We like to add cooked canned beans, any sort, and serve it over polenta. But even with just veggies, it is very filling, and low cal. A fave here, and we eat veggie or vegan 5 days a week.

  16. Melissa says:

    I like to make it without the peppers, I think it overpowers the whole dish & I use about 10 cloves of garlic, not minced just cut in half. My favorite way to serve it is over pasta with a big mound of parmesan or romano on top!

  17. kristine says:

    Yum. And great addition, rebecca- I will try it! But I will likely just use my freecycle george forman grill to quickly cook all this stuff. I like my veg crunchy!

  18. Jules says:

    I do not understand the fixation with removing tomato skins. I have never bothered to remove the skins, and the sauce or ratatouillie works just fine.

    Your ratatouille is a lot less “stew-y” than mine, which basically consists of stir-fried veggies stewed briefly with tomato sauce (made separately). It’s the one vegetarian thing that my non-vegetarian boyfriend will eat as is, without bacon*. I usually make mine with pasta, cooked directly in the sauce to sop up the liquid.

    I also have to add that salting your eggplant for about 15 minutes prior to cooking it makes (apparently) a world of difference for the taste. My boyfriend still maintains that he hates eggplant, in spite of its regular occurrences on our table.

  19. Jules says:

    *The Bacon Theorem of Vegetarian Cooking states that you can make anything vegetarin spectacularly awesome to non-vegetarians by the judicious use of bacon. The Sausage Addendum is for those dishes in which bacon would not be suitable.

  20. michael bash says:

    @ Robin – don’t confuse cold with room temperature; the latter is traditional and preferred to hot from the oven.

    @ Trent. I’m happy you’ve discovered Julia Child; she’ll lead you in the right direction. She asks a lot from her students, i.e. time and some work; she’s slow food at its best. With her you have a great future in store. Watch some of her “The French Chef” episodes (PBS) on YouTube. Bon Appetit.

  21. michael bash says:

    @Jules – Bravo re peeling tomatoes. I’ve been cooking for 35+ years, and I’ve never peeled one.

  22. anne says:

    WHERE’S THE DELICIOUS PEACH COBBLER RECIPE?

  23. Laurie says:

    I’ve been reading all of your summer meal series, and while they all seem to be low cost, this one definitely does not sound like it is quick and easy to make. The directions were so long that I decided to stop reading it half way through. I don’t know if I’d consider this recipe in future series. But, some of the other commenters seem to have much more simpler steps for making this concoction that I might be willing to try.

  24. eofelis says:

    I’m not much of a cook but Ratatouille is one of the things I make when I get lots of free zuchinni in the summertime.
    I make mine very simply: olive oil in a big pan, cut up onions, zuch, eggplant and add diced tomato and minced garlic. Toss it all in the pot and cook it until it’s done, up to and hour or so. I used to cook the onion first but I noticed no difference when I just cooked it all together.

    I make a huge pot of this stuff and freeze it in 8oz yogurt containers, a perfect serving size. I have a lot of these containers with lids that I have been using for up to 10 years!

  25. Roberta says:

    The America’s Test Kitchen (Cook’s Illustrated, for those who know the magazine) is my favorite ratatouille recipe because it is done in the oven. After chopping the veggies and tossing with a can of diced tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper & herbes de provence, spread everything out in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast it all in the oven, stirring occasionally while you prepare the rest of the meal. I find it to be more flavorful than the stovetop variety, though I’ve made that too many times. Ratatouille is a wonderful dish.

  26. Brittany says:

    Add me to the anti-peeled tomato crowd. Skins are the best part of the tomato.

    I bet you peel your peaches for the cobbler too. Alas.

  27. Cheri says:

    @Trent This looks delicious! And good for you to peel tomatoes! LOL I personally LOVE the skin on my tomatoes and have never even thought of peeling the skin off..

  28. SwingCheese says:

    My mom and I were canning today and wondering why people peel their tomatoes before canning them. As I have never canned tomatoes, I suggested that it might be that skins would become bitter. She maintained that it was for looks only.

    If it is for looks only, then go skins!!

  29. Aristotle says:

    Terrific post, Trent. Tried this today and it came out great! I’m surprised at how tasty the eggplant is — don’t usually enjoy this vegetable. I’ll definitely be bookmarking this one, keep up the cooking posts.

  30. Kiz says:

    I love Julia Child type recipes, however, The Test Kitchen Cookbook has a better, easier version. Cut everything in equal sized chunks and toss all your veggies together with a can/jar of diced tomatoes, season it up and roast in a hot oven for about an hour. My daughter loves it!

  31. Johanna says:

    I think peeling tomatoes is for texture. Some varieties have thick skins that can get stuck in your teeth.

    I don’t peel my tomatoes either, but that’s because I’m lazy.

  32. M E 2 says:

    I think the movie is better than this dish. But, that’s because I don’t like eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and/or zucchini.

    :)

  33. 8sml says:

    When I don’t peel tomatoes, the skins often peel off during the cooking process, roll up, and form little sticks that I find off-putting. However, I’m a path-of-least-resistance cook, so I rarely peel them and just put up with the sticks.

  34. Karen says:

    Sounds yummy. I will try and also thanks to some other posters for giving some good ideas – might try using the crockpot.

  35. Trent says:

    For some reason, tomato skins get stuck in my teeth! I usually eat them, though.

    I blanched the tomatoes because that’s what Julia recommended in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I don’t think it made a huge difference – so, if you’re all about the skins, use them!

  36. Emma says:

    Excellent recipe, yet again! I am really enjoying this series, and I’m sad it’ll be ending soon. Would you consider doing a Winter Cooking series as well??

    One small mistake – I’m pretty sure a “crepe” is not a vegetable :)

  37. amanda more says:

    http://amzn.to/cwLjzE (Eating on $1) in Amazon This shows costs and calories (Tom and I wrote) Bought in an inner city this would cost perhaps $8. As others have mentioned you would need a lot of olive oil to manage 400 calories per person. Rice can easily be 60 cents a pound so here each could chow down a cup apiece about 650 calories or $4.40 each. An active teenage boy eating foods like this would still need then 4 times the calories or $17.60 a day. The govt thinks you can feed all kids for $7 a day. So, realistically this dish and dishes like it is out of reach except for 1600 calorie a day dieting Mom’s ( for those who need to make the rent.)

  38. Matthew says:

    RE: Compost vegetables!

    If you make your own chicken stock (which I think you do, recalling my reading) it’s worth it to save those veggie trimmings. I wouldn’t save the pepper, but all my onion skins, carrot peels, and stock vegetable scraps get ziploc-ed in the freezer to put in with my chicken carcasses. It’s a terribly easy way to add flavor. I typically use the same amount of ingredient for stock anyway, but this gives it a little extra, I think.

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