One of my absolute favorite dishes to make in the summer is ratatouille. A legendary dish hailing from the Provence region of France, ratatouille is traditionally made by stewing together tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, squash and herbs. (Psst—it’s pronounced rat-eh-too-ee. Don’t stress, it took me years and a Pixar movie to get it right.) Like any traditional recipe worth its salt, there’s plenty of debate about the ‘proper’ way to make it. And, like many French dishes, the right way to make it is the way your imaginary French grandmother did.
My take? If you’re in a hurry or want to use your ratatouille as a bed or topping for grilled protein, the stew route is the way to go. But if you have extra time, and are up for transforming a glut of vibrant summer vegetables into a truly show-stopping side (or main dish!), you can’t beat this recipe. Inspired by confit byaldi, which also made an appearance in a certain Pixar film, my version is baked, with a blanket of grated cheese that turns crusty and golden. Trust me: this one’s worth heating up the oven, no matter the time of year.
Serving: The recipe below should fill one large round baking dish. I use a 10″ long oval baking dish; you can always divide up the veggies into two or more smaller dishes, if you like.
The recipe can serve 2-4 people as a main when served with a hearty base alongside it (brown rice! orzo! quinoa!), or could serve 6 if an accompaniment to protein and other veggies.
Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, root end removed, and sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Pinch crushed red pepper flake
1 medium-large zucchini
1 medium-large yellow zucchini
1 orange heirloom tomato
4 medium vine tomatoes
1 small Japanese eggplant
1 tbsp tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
Asiago or Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved or coarsely grated
4-5 basil leaves, chiffonade
How to make it
1. Preheat your oven to 400°.
2. In a medium skillet, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and let cook for 1 minute, or until they just begin to soften. Add in half of the chopped garlic, the crushed red pepper flake, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Continue cooking over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the vegetables. Lower the heat further if you notice the onions are browning too quickly.
3. While the onions cook, slice the ends off the squash and eggplant, as well as the stems off of the tomatoes. Then, slice each vegetable so that it is about 1/4″ thick. You can make each more thick or less thick; most important is to make your cuts consistent, so the vegetables will roast evenly. If you make the cuts thinner, keep in mind they will cook faster; thicker, and they will take longer. (Though the flavor can develop more, as everything will end up stewing in its own juices in the oven!)
4. Once the vegetables are prepped, add in the tomato paste to the pan with the onions, and bring the heat back to medium. Stir to distribute and “melt,” until the paste has coated the onions and the mixture is fragrant. Transfer the onion mixture to the bottom of your baking dish, and drizzle with a tablespoon or so of olive oil.
5. Next, begin arranging your sliced vegetables in the dish, alternating by color. Arrange in your preferred pattern; I like to stack them in an outer circle first, then fill the inside area with leftover pieces. Sprinkle the remainder of the chopped garlic over the top of the vegetables, then season the whole thing with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.
6. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes to an hour, or until the mixture is very bubbly and the vegetables are tender. Remove the dish from the oven, and turn your broiler on to high. Layer shaved or coarsely shredded cheese on top of the cooked vegetables, then bake underneath the broiler until the cheese gets bubbly and brown.
7. Let the dish rest for a couple minutes, garnish with freshly chopped basil, and serve. This is delicious with grilled steaks, roasted chicken, or makes a superstar vegetarian main alongside pasta or couscous!
- About the vegetables: Be sure to purchase squash, eggplant and tomatoes that are roughly the same size in diameter. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you end up with a really skinny zucchini and a fat eggplant, you may have to do some trimming to get the dish to look as nice. When I made this dish, I used a regular bell shaped eggplant, and that made things more difficult, which is why I’m recommending the use of Japanese eggplant. They tend to be more cylindrical.
- About the cheese: I’ve recommended parmesan or Asiago for a sharp, piquant flavor. Grana Padano is a great substitute here, too. You can also try goat cheese (chevre) for a softer texture and tangier profile, if that’s your thing!