Ratatouille (rat-ta-too-ee) is a classic French vegetable casserole that uses eggplant as one of its ingredients. My first taste of it, however, wasn’t in France, or even in a French restaurant. Chuck’s Steakhouse, one of the pioneering Southern California / Hawaiian steakhouse chains, used to serve Ratatouille as its main side dish. I’ll bet thousands of us loved it at first bite.
This dish smells so good while its simmering that anyone who comes in your place will smile and ask “Wow. What’s cooking?”
In addition to the eggplant, this dish uses tomatoes, zucchini, green peppers, red peppers, and onions. If you have a vegetable garden, here’s a great way to use up lots of your produce, especially if you’re getting tired of your 27 zucchini recipes and tomato salads.
When cooking eggplant, it’s very important to take into consideration its high water content. If you just cube it and sauté it in a pan, you’ll wind up with a soggy mess. You therefore need to salt it and let it sit for a while to let the salt draw out the excess moisture. Using kosher or other large-grained salt makes it easier to wipe it off afterwards. The exception is grilled eggplant, where you can just slice it, rub it with a little olive oil, give it some salt (or garlic salt) and pepper, and put it on the grill.
1 medium eggplant
2 tablespoons salt, preferably kosher
1/4 cup oil, olive or vegetable
2 large onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 medium zucchini, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon oregano
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley to garnish
Slice and chop the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes, spread it out in a colander, and sprinkle it with salt. Let stand 30 minutes or so, wipe off, and let dry.
Heat the oil, and sauté the onions for two minutes. Add the garlic for another minute (don’t burn the garlic). Add the peppers and cook for another two minutes. Shove the vegetables to the edge of the pan and brown the eggplant in the middle, turning once or twice, for a total of another three or four minutes. Then add the tomatoes, zucchini, and seasonings (except for the parsley), and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Stir it once in a while, and if the vegetables get tender sooner, then slow down. Add the parsley for garnish.
Even though I usually serve Ratatouille warm, and with steak for old time’s sake, it is also good cold. For example, try it as a topping for a cold pasta salad for lunch. Yummy!