35. Ratatouille

Ratatouille ... I'd never heard of it until I married a foodie's son and he insisted I learn to make it. Back then my motto was, if it takes longer than five minutes, we don't eat it. I thought ratatouille was extremely time consuming.

Then, nearly 40 years later, it became a movie about a rat and everyone learned how to pronounce it [ Āatatuj]. Nowadays I consider ratatouille to be the fourth-most important food, after bread, wine, and cheese. And I can make it in not much more than five minutes.

OK, maybe fifteen minutes. But then--assuming you already have the bread, wine, and cheese--your meal is ready. And if your family is small, you can eat ratatouille leftovers for days. Just don't follow most of the recipes you'll find online. They are too complicated.

Here's what you do, in two versions for two kinds of cooks.

For both versions, buy one eggplant, two zucchini, one big round onion, and some tomatoes--3 or 4 medium, 5 or 6 plum tomatoes, or even a handful of cherry tomatoes. I'm assuming you have extra-virgin olive oil and a head of garlic already.

Short version
Cut everything into bite-sized chunks, adding it to the pan as soon as it's ready and cooking as you go. Here's the order to add: olive oil, onion, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, tomato, seasonings. That's all you really need to know.

Long version
Get out a nice big heavy frying pan. Pour olive oil into it. Heat it up.

Chop up the onion. Dice it, slice it, do whatever you feel like doing to it. Put it in the pan and let it soften (not brown--turn down the heat if it tries) while you...

Peel and then dice the eggplant. Chunks should be between 1/2 and 1 inch square. Toss the eggplant into the pan with the onion and let it cook, even brown a little (you may feel like adding more olive oil; eggplant drinks the stuff), while you ...

Chop the zucchini. No need to peel. If they're small, just slice them fairly thick. If they're bigger, cut them in half lengthwise before slicing. If they're truly huge, use only one of them and cut them in quarters. Toss them into the pan with the onion and eggplant and let them cook while you ...

Dice some garlic, as much as you like, and toss it into the pan with the onion and eggplant and zucchini and let it cook while you ...

Chop the tomatoes. I don't generally remove the seeds; they don't get in the way and probably are good for us. Then dump the tomatoes in the pan with the onion and eggplant and zucchini and garlic and let it all simmer until you get the table set and the bread sliced and the wine poured.

If you like, you can add dried or fresh herbs after the tomatoes: parsley, basil, oregano are all good.

What to do with it once you've made it
  • Whatever else you do with it, top it with shredded or shaved fresh Parmesan cheese (never the powdery stuff that comes in a green tube, however).
  • Serve it as a soup or stew, with fat slices of good bread.
  • Use it as pasta sauce. It's great on spaghetti or in lasagna.
  • Brown some chicken breasts and then braise them in ratatouille.
  • Smash it up a bit and spread it on bread rounds. Garnish with sprigs of parsley.
  • Top a baked potato with ratatouille and cheese.
  • Use it as a side dish with meat and potatoes.
  • Serve it cold, on greens, perhaps with chopped boiled eggs.
  • Stuff an omelet with it.
  • Get creative.
This week we've had it on spaghetti (twice: I've been busy). And today we'll be having ratatouille omelets. If I ever finish my current work project, I might cook something else...

By the way, the Lenten Experiment is having a good effect on Mr Neff's lunch habits. He managed to eat in a restaurant with a friend at noon today for only $2.25.


Lileonie said...

Why cause yourself the extra work of PEELING the eggplants? The skin cooks to a tender deliciousness, and adds colour!

LaVonne Neff said...

I don't peel the eggplant if it's young and tender, or especially if it's Asian eggplant. But the big purple things at the grocery store often have peeling the consistency of cardboard.

Jennifer said...

Is there a good substitute for eggplant? Or would it not be Ratatouille anymore?

LaVonne Neff said...

You can use Asian eggplant (the little skinny light-colored ones), which you might like even if you don't like big purple eggplant. Or you can replace the eggplant with yellow summer squash. And throw in a bell pepper, either orange or yellow (green doesn't taste as good, and red looks too much like the tomatoes). It may not be ratatouille, but it's still a good and versatile dish.

Mr. Neff said...

Mr. Neff wishes to inform Mrs. Neff's readers that polenta also makes a wonderful base over which to serve ratatouille. You can serve the polenta soft or you can let it set and fry up some crispy strips or squares. Either way it is delish.