Nothing ushers in the return of warm weather more than fresh seasonal vegetables. Ratatouille, originating in the south of France, incorporates five of these in a slow cooked stew. Roughly equal proportions of onion, zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper and tomatoes, the success of the dish depends mostly on timing, the aim being to draw out the essence of each vegetable while maintaining its textural integrity. The best order is onions first, followed by peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini.
Like any dish cooked over several hours, adjusting the heat so that it bubbles ever so slowly, is important. The addition of fresh herbs, most notably thyme, greatly intensifies the flavors.
Ratatouille is rich and hearty enough to be served as a standalone dish. The subtle sweetness from the bell peppers and tomatoes marries ideally with higher acid, fruit forward reds like the Buchignani Carignane. The lighter body and lower alcohol characteristic of this varietal also makes it a refreshing alternative to heavier reds in summer weather.
- 3 onions roughly chopped
- 3 red or yellow bell peppers, cored, deseeded, cut in strips then cut in half (roasted on flame to remove skin)
- 3 medium sized eggplants cut into 1” squares (skin on)
- 7-8 tomatoes, skinned and cut into a dozen chunks (substitute 1 can of San Marzano tomatoes)
- 4 zucchini no thicker than a sausage, cut in ¾” slices (skin on)
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
- Olive oil
- Thyme, parsley, bay leaf, pinch of cayenne
- Liberally oil a large enamel pot, put over high heat and add the onions. After a few minutes of stirring, add the peppers and turn down the heat to medium. Add three good pinches of salt and cook a further 15 minutes being careful to stir so the onions do not burn.
- Add the tomatoes, stir well, turn down heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Use kitchen string to tie a sprig of thyme, parsley and bay leaf into a bouquet garni and insert into the stew. Let simmer for another 15 minutes
- Add eggplant, stir, cover and continue simmering for another 15 minutes.
- Finally add the zucchini, bring to a boil, then cover and adjust heat to a bare simmer for an hour. After an hour, check the eggplant and zucchini—they should be soft with no resistance to a fork but not mushy and falling apart. Cook a little longer if still firm.
- Place a colander in a large skillet and pour the entire contents of the finished stew into the colander allowing all the juice to pass through into the skillet. Return the ratatouille in the colander back to the original cooking vessel.
- Heat the juices in the skillet over high heat to reduce to less than half. When the juices have reduced to the consistency of maple syrup, remove from heat and pour over ratatouille.
- Distribute fresh basil over the top of the dish at the last moment as it is served.
Recipe by John Olney, COO and Winemaker at Ridge’s Lytton Springs Winery in Sonoma County.