Aside from being fun to say, ratatouille is, in the end, vegetable stew. If you buy your ingredients fresh, local and in season, the only challenge is timing. The peppers and onions take longer to cook so they go in first. The softer eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes go in later. Like any dish cooked over many hours, dialing in the heat so it bubbles ever so slowly, is important. I have the most success in the oven at low temperature. Others prefer the range top. The oven has the added advantage of a door that keeps curious passer-bys from opening the lid which lets all the heat out and upsets the rhythm of the cooking. Going to the trouble to get fresh herbs is worthwhile. Old, dry bay leaves that crumble when folded add little flavor and just wind up stuck in your teeth.
- 3 red or yellow bell peppers, cut in strips, then cut in half
- 2-3 onions roughly chopped
- 8 tomatoes sliced in half, seeded, then cut in smaller chunks
- 4-5 zucchini no thicker than a sausage cut into ½ inch slices
- 2 full size or 3 medium size eggplants cut into 1” squares
- 6-7 cloves garlic peeled and roughly diced
- Basil, lots
- Olive Oil
- Thyme, parsley, bay leaf, pinch of cayenne if you like it hot
- Liberally oil a large enamel pot, put over high heat on the stove top and add the onions. After a few minutes of stirring, add the peppers and turn down to medium heat. Add 3 pinches of salt, 4 if you want it to taste better.
- Turn on the oven to 250. While it’s pre-heating, slice the tomatoes in half, give them a light squeeze and flick of the wrist over the sink to get rid of most of the seeds, then cut each half 2-3 more times. Add the garlic, stir for a minute, then add the tomatoes, using their juice to deglaze the bottom of the pot. Tie 2-3 sprigs of thyme, parsley and a bay leaf up into a bundle with kitchen string and throw it in. Look in the pot to see if the tomatoes have submerged everything. If not, have a can of diced tomatoes handy to throw on top. Then turn up the heat until it all boils. When it does, cover with a lid, put into the oven and adjust heat so it cooks slowly.
- While that’s cooking, cut the zucchini and eggplant, spread them out on a towel and sprinkle with salt. After 45 minutes of cooking, take out the pot, add the zucchini and eggplant, re-lid and put back in the oven for about 2 hours. When the skin on the peppers slides off easily but before the flesh disintegrates, it’s done and ready to serve with basil all over the top. It is not possible to add too much basil.
- The last step is optional but well worth it. Immediately after it comes out of the oven, dump the whole thing into a strainer, catching all the juice in a large, deep skillet beneath. Put the skillet over the highest flame you have, reduce it to a syrup and pour over the entire dish. Whatever pan you use for the reduction will need a week of soaking and scrubbing to clean, but your ratatouille will be exponentially improved.
- Be sure the Carignane is at cellar, not room temperature. If it is at room temperature, try putting it in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Recipe by John Olney, Vice President and Winemaker at Ridge’s Lytton Springs Winery in Sonoma County.