Ratatouille is a bowl of summer’s bounty, elevated beyond the sum of its parts, through the magic of heat and time. Large chunks of tender vegetables, impregnated with the ripe flavors of the summer sun. Juicy, but not watery, and with a rich savoriness that tastes more sinful than its virtuous ingredients indicate. So what’s become of this French classic? Perhaps the biggest culprit is the use of poor quality ingredients. To paraphrase a computer nerd maxim: if you put garbage in, you get garbage out. The tomatoes in particular need to be grown in good quality soil and ripened by the summer sun, not some gas chamber in a distribution warehouse. The olive oil is also important because in ratatouille, it’s not merely a lubricant to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan, it’s a seasoning. But most importantly, ratatouille needs time. Time for the garlic, onions and bell peppers to caramelize, making them sweet and developing the lip-smacking umami that seasons the rest of the stew.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 large cloves garlic (55 grams), roughly chopped
2 large onions (500 grams), sliced
2 medium bell peppers – red (120 grams), cored, seeded and sliced
6 medium tomatoes (700 grams), cored and cut into 8 pieces
3 medium Japanese eggplants (400 grams), cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
3 medium zucchini (700 grams), cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
1/4 packed cup parsley – flat leaf roughly chopped
1/4 packed cup basil roughly chopped
6-8 sprigs thyme – fresh
2 teaspoons salt to taste
Add the olive oil and garlic to a large heavy bottomed pot, like a Le Creuset and sauté over medium heat until the garlic starts to brown and becomes very fragrant. Turn down the heat to low and then add the onions and bell peppers. Cover the pot with a lid and let the onions wilt, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Remove the lid and sauté the vegetables until all the water released has evaporated and the onions start to brown. Add the tomatoes, cover the pot with the lid, and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and have released a lot of liquid.
Add the eggplants, zucchini, parsley, basil, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and then cover with a lid and allow the vegetables to cook until tender (30-40 minutes), stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are soft, remove the lid and let the ratatouille continue to simmer until the excess liquid has evaporated and the stew is nice and thick. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste and serve ratatouille with crusty bread.