I've always had a fondness for ratatouille. Maybe it's because of the funny name? But really I just adore the combination of summer vegetables. In fact I've loved ratatouille even before the animated Disney film came about. But I fell in love with it even more after seeing it. This popular dish from France is a summer specialty and it's very characteristic of the fresh cuisine of Nice, from where it originates. Now is the perfect time to make ratatouille—when the season is winding down and there are a lot of fresh vegetables available.
Now the best part about ratatouille is eating it. If made just right, the explosive flavors of summer awaken all the senses. That's exactly what happens in the movie when Remy the rat makes ratatouille for the restaurant critic Anton Ego, who can make or break a restaurant's reputation. The dish ultimately turns out to be a masterpiece, recalling for the hardened critic, fond childhood memories in his mother's kitchen. This homey recipe is exactly that kind of ratatouille—it's the one to beat all others. But first there are a few secrets you must know before making this amazing dish.
The classic combination of sweet bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, onion, and tomatoes is requisite for the right ratatouille. Some recipes call for cooking all the vegetables together, but that actually leads to a mushy mess. Nowadays most chefs advocate cooking the vegetables separately to create a harmonious dish, where each ingredient is cooked to perfection in flavor and texture. That's exactly what my recipe is all about.
However, instead of sautéing the vegetables, I roast them. This creates a wonderful concentrated flavor and it's quite easy to do instead of standing by the oven the entire time. The only step that still requires some sautéing is cooking the onions and tomatoes, which reduce into a sauce consistency to coat all the vegetables. In the end, it's a thoroughly satisfying dish, capturing the best of summer in one meal. Make it for you loved ones—the dish might just make memories.
4 bell peppers, red and yellow
4 small zucchini, green and yellow
4 long Asian eggplants, Japanese and Taiwanese
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 bay leaf
1 rosemary sprig
5 thyme sprigs
torn basil leaves, for garnish
Turn oven on broil.
Place peppers on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil peppers 5 minutes per side until black and blistered. Alternatively, blacken peppers over a gas flame. Transfer peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for a few minutes to allow steam to loosen skins. Remove skins by rubbing peppers with paper towels. Remove stem and seeds. Chop peppers and add to a large bowl.
Turn oven down to 450 degrees F.
Cut zucchini into thick rounds and toss with a good drizzling of oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, flipping halfway through, until golden, about 12 minutes. Repeat with eggplant. Add both vegetables to the bowl with roasted peppers. Season with salt and pepper.
Warm a few tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes. Tie bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme into a bundle and add. Simmer vegetables until mixture has thickened and resembles sauce, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over bowl with peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. Toss gently to combine and check seasoning. Transfer to a warm serving bowl and garnish with torn basil. Serve warm or at room temperature. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.