It's high eggplant and squash season and tomatoes are just beginning to reveal their glory. I received a little over 3 pounds of eggplant, 2 pounds of squash, a bunch of peppers, tons of herbs, and the cherry tomatoes were u-pick. Check out that color! The purple ones are called something like "black jewel" and their sweet taste and firm texture stood out from the rest.
I've made ratatouille several times before, but never with such stunning produce. This was going to be special. The secret to ratatouille is in the olive oil: to get that velvety texture, each vegetable is sauteed (almost fried....you need a hot temp) by itself in olive oil. Each veggie soaks up the oil, turning the final product into a luxurious stew of soft, golden veggies.
Ratatouille is something you with which you should take some "artistic freedoms". Most recipes call for eggplant, red and green peppers, onions, garlic, zucchini and/or yellow squash and whole, large tomatoes. This time around I had a few white mushrooms that needed to be put to use, used 1 large tomato and the rest cherry tomatoes, and I threw in basil, thyme and rosemary. If you love eggplant, use a ton. If you prefer zucchini, use more of that. You can't mess this up.
Take time to prep your veggies first: a range of textures and sizes will make your final dish more interesting. And if your eggplant is big and has lots of seeds, slice and salt it and let it sit over a colander to remove any bitterness. It will drip brown liquid that you'll want to discard. Rinse the eggplant slightly, pat dry and set aside. Then, heat your oil. I generally start with about 1.5 tablespoons of oil per vegetable. But the eggplant requires more, the peppers a little less.
So heat your oil in a 10" regular not non-stick fry pan and drop in your finely diced garlic (about two cloves...however garlicky you like it) and 1 sliced sweet white onion. After a few seconds of flash frying, sprinkle with salt to release the liquid. Sautee over high heat for about 3 mintues or until a few onions show some good caramel color. Remove it all to a bowl and set aside. Repeat this process with the peppers, eggplant, squash and zucchini.
When all of those veggies are done, use a larger pan or pot such as a 5 quart dutch oven or even a paella pan and heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil until it shimmers. Add all of your tomatoes and flash fry for about two minutes until they release their juices and the sugars start to thicken. Then, add all of the rest of your veggies including any juices they've left in their bowls plus your chosen diced herbs. Give it a few gentle stirs and pop it into a 325 degree oven for about 45 mintues. This will concentrate the flavors and bring out that velvety texture.
Serve it with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesean over cous cous or rice. It's excellent reheated or at room tempterature and serves as a lovely bed for any grilled red meats or chicken. AND this gets better with time as the flavors blend. A third-day ratatouille is almost always better than the day you make it.
Eat at sunset with a bottle of pinot noir and some crusty bread, preferably while looking at a field of sunflowers. Now isn't that summer?