Recently, when I was telling an organic farmer how much I love eggplant, he asked how I usually cook it.
“Ratatouille,” I told him. “It’s the only thing I know how to do with eggplant.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
I thought he was kidding.
“You know, rat-atouille?” I said again, with the emphasis on “rat.” Surely he would at least recognize the word from the 2007 Disney movie?
Nope. He had never heard of it. The movie or the delicious French dish that is surely short for “I need to use up all this stuff from my garden.”
So, with as much couture and precision as I could muster, I described it this way, “It’s a dish that uses all the stuff that is ripe at the same time as eggplant. You know, tomatoes, zucchini, green peppers, onions, basil.”
“Oh,” he responded, obviously not as impressed as I am about it.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of it either, although certainly YOU know about the movie with the cute rats and the young chef and girl with the bangs. Surely you do, right?
But even if you’ve watched the movie a hundred times but still not tasted ratatouille, you are missing out. And if you have a garden like mine that just keeps on producing despite the fact that we’re in a major drought, then surely you need another recipe to help you use all of your goodies.
Even if you aren’t growing eggplant, you can find it at any farmer’s market right now, or even in your supermarket, and it’s a healthy addition to your diet. So grab one of those Black Beauties, or even a few of the Asian miniatures, head out to your garden for some tomatoes, peppers, and squash, and meet me back here with a knife and a really big skillet (I use a wok). You’re in for a treat!
Of course there are as many different recipes for ratatouille as there are cooks who make it. Some recipes also include mushrooms, olives, or potatoes (mine doesn’t). I have eaten it with the skin on or off the eggplant. Yellow squash can easily be substituted for zucchini, and the same is true of any color of sweet peppers you have. I also have spiced it up a little with some ground red pepper or hot sauce, and it pairs nicely with a whole grain like rice or couscous, or even cottage cheese. One thing is certain, I ALWAYS sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.
My own version modified from The Joy of Cooking
1 medium eggplant (or 3 small Asian eggplants) – peeled and chopped coarsely
2 medium zucchini (or yellow squash) – chopped coarsely
2 onions – chopped
2 large peppers – chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 cups of fresh tomatoes – peeled, seeded, and chopped (or one 14-ounce can of tomatoes)
1/4 cup fresh Basil – chopped
Fresh thyme (3-4 sprigs)
Salt and Pepper
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet, wok, or dutch oven, then add the eggplant and zucchini and cook until tender [if you want to add potatoes, slice them and throw them in at this point]. Set those aside. Then add 2 Tblsp of olive oil and the onions into the skillet and cook until slightly softened. Then add the peppers and garlic and cook until tender [mushrooms should be added here, if desired]. Salt and pepper to taste.
Then, add the tomatoes and thyme and cook for about five minutes until the mixture begins to bubble. Then return the eggplant and zucchini to the pan and cook for 15 more minutes until everything is tender. Season again with salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the basil [and chopped olives, if you choose].