When I was in kindergarten, I had a best friend. Her name was Sue and we were inseparable. Though I could tell you of some of the silly, fun things we did together, what stands out the most in the few short years we lived on the same street was when I did something that wronged her. I have no idea what it was. I just remember how my mother responded. She took me out to the garage, where Sue was crying. She had me apologize to Sue; an honest and sincere apology. I was embarrassed. Then Mom had me apologize to God in front of Sue for having hurt her. That was even harder than the original apology, but it’s stuck with me through the years. My Mom was and is an excellent parent and amazing person.
Fast forward forty-five years and find me in the kitchen surrounded by tomatoes, eggplant and the dreaded zucchini. Dudette wanders over to where I’m cutting up vegetables and asks me what I’m making. “Ratatouille,” I inform her, being as obtuse as possible. “Will I like it?” she continues. Curses, I think. “I don’t see why not,” I respond. “Meme made it for me when I was little.” The inevitable, which I should have foreseen; “Did you like it?”
I looked my daughter right in the eye and replied, “Yes, I loved it.” And then that short scenario of my childhood flashed before my eyes because I had just lied. I didn’t like my Mom’s ratatouille. I didn’t like anyone’s ratatouille. It was slimy and a bit bitter. The flavors were “different.” Had my mom been in the kitchen with me she would have made me apologize to Dudette and then to God just as I did decades before. As it stands, God and I will have a conversation about this tonight, but for now I don’t plan on letting Dudette know any differently.
So, why am I making ratatouille if I can’t stand it? Because tastes change. When I was young, I also didn’t like Brussels sprouts or cabbage. Now I love both. I can’t even tell you when the change took place. It just did. So, it’s time to give eggplant another chance. Since I have tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini from the garden and Cook’s Illustrated is kind enough to provide a recipe for ratatouille, it made sense to start there.
A warning for those who might be interested in making this dish; it is time consuming. And much of the time consumed requires your presence around the stove/oven.
To start, pour a glass of red wine. Put it aside. Then cut up two large eggplants, put them in a colander, sprinkle them with salt, toss to coat and let the colander sit in the sink. Go into the living room, grab your favorite book, put your feet up and enjoy the wine while you wait and hour for the liquid to seep out of the vegetable.
When the wine’s gone, rinse the eggplant well and dry it (the instructions for that are below; no need to be that redundant). Add the cut up zucchini, some oil, toss to coat, but it all on baking sheets and roast for a half hour, turning occasionally and rotating the baking sheets.
While that’s going on, saute onions until a beautiful golden brown (I adore caramelized onions), add garlic, then tomatoes. The tomatoes only need about five minutes. They just need to release their juice and get a little soft. You don’t want them to turn into mush. Once the juices are released, add the roasted eggplant and zucchini and carefully stir everything together, heating for about 5 more minutes. Throw in the parsley, basil and thyme, season and you’re good to go.
The glory of this meal for me was that everything but the garlic and onion came from the gardens (my herb garden and our shared vegetable garden). My feeling about eggplant was also right; I loved this. I mean seriously loved this. Roasting the eggplant removes any bitterness and makes it very sweet. The fresh herbs are like fireworks in the mouth, they’re so good. This ratatouille was outstanding.
You know what Dudette did? She took a bite, ran to the trash, spit it out and said, “I don’t like it. It has zucchini in it.” There was no way for her to know that. She didn’t see me working with it and by the time the dish is done it’s browned so much that no green shows. Her zucchini spidey senses amaze me. Hubby also didn’t care for it. He said that the texture just about made him gag (mushrooms do the same thing). I’m letting you know their thoughts so you have both viewpoints. Mine is the one you should listen to though; I promise.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
If I did anything different, I might add another tomato so there was a little more sauce. I would also consider grilling the zucchini and eggplant instead of roasting it. That would add a different flavor that could be fantastic. There really is no reason to change the recipe though. It’s outstanding.
- 2 large eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Table salt
- 2 large zucchini, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch cubes
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 3 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- Ground black pepper
- Place eggplant in the colander and sprinkle with two teaspoons salt. Toss to coat. Let stand at least one hour (up to three), then rinse under cold water to remove salt. Spread eggplant on a triple layer of paper towels. Cover with an additional triple fold of towels and press to remove as much moisture as possible until eggplant feels firm and compressed.
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
- Toss eggplant, zucchini, and two tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Divide the mixture evenly between two baking sheets, spreading it into a single layer on each. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and roast, stirring every 10 minutes until well browned and tender, 30-40 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom halfway through roasting. Set aside.
- In a Dutch oven, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the onion and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds, stirring.
- Add tomatoes and cook until their liquid is released and they just begin to break down, 5 minutes. Add the roasted eggplant and zucchini mixture, gently stirring to combine. Cook the ratatouille 5 minutes until just heated through. Add the parsley, basil and thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.