Regardless of what you may have heard from your kids, Ratatouille is not the conveniently-named food star of a Disney cartoon movie. The dish known as Ratatouille is actually an ancient Mediterranean stew traditionally known as “Peasant’s Food,” since it is essentially comprised of any veggie leftovers you can find, thrown into a pot and cooked down together. Farmer’s food: fresh local vegetables, stewed in regional herbs, it can change with particular influences of the chef preparing it, and can vary every time you make it as well.
Ratatouille was most likely born in the French Provençal region around Nice on the Mediterranean (“touiller,” after all, does mean to “toss or stir” in French!). That’s probably one reason it’s so often served with a crusty baguette … yum.
Since its origin, it has enjoyed a rebirth in fancy restaurants all over the world, but is just as easily prepared in your kitchen with whatever veggies you have on hand (oh yeah, and a gluten-free baguette!).
Another neat thing about this dish is that it can be made using an oven and stovetop method, or entirely over a grill. This fact comes in handy when you’re without power (thanks a lot, Hurricane Irene), trust me! And leftover Ratatouille itself can be used over rice or quinoa, as filling for ravioli or over grilled fish or chicken. It’s an amazingly yummy, healthy and versatile recipe that you’ll want to keep around whether you have lots of mouths to feed, a fridge full of leftovers, an overactive imagination while hitting the Farmer’s Market, or an extended power outage (or all of the above, as the case may be!).
During our recent many days without power, I put this recipe to good use. I had lots of great eggplant, squash and okra from the Farmer’s Market just taking up space in my warming refrigerator, and although the squirrels ate all my home-grown tomatoes, I had several cans of Muir Glen Organic Tomatoes and a hand-crank can opener, so I was set!
I especially enjoyed the flavor from the Muir Glen Fire Roasted Petite Diced Tomatoes with Chipotle Peppers and the Meridian Ruby Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. They really made a huge difference in the flavor of this dish, and I would highly recommend that you try them in your own tomato concoctions!
- 3 bell peppers (orange, yellow &/or red) seeded & cut into quarters
- 1 large eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch slices (approximately 1 1/2 lbs)
- 1 medium yellow squash, cut lengthwise into thirds
- 3 medium zucchini squash, cut lengthwise into thirds
- 2 cups chopped okra
- 1 cup vegetable broth (I used Savory Choice™ Liquid Broth Concentrate)
- 5 large tomatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), seeded and chopped OR 3 cans (14.5 oz each – Muir Glen Organic)
- 1 red onion, diced
- 1 ear corn, cooked and cut off the cob
- 3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil (or 1 Tbs. dried)
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano (or 1 Tbs. dried)
- 2 Tbs. chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or to taste
- Olive oil for brushing on veggies and sautéing
*Note: use whatever vegetables you have on hand and prefer – there is no “right” or “wrong” way to make Ratatouille!
With Power (Oven) Method:
Preheat oven to 425°F. Prepare two cookie sheets by lining with aluminum foil, then lightly oil the foil. Place cut peppers, eggplant, squash and okra on prepared sheets. Roast vegetables for 40 minutes, flipping them after 20 minutes and switching trays from the top of the oven to the bottom. Watch to be sure they do not burn; each side should be lightly browned and fork tender when roasted.
Once the vegetables are cool enough to handle, cut into 1/2 – 1 inch pieces. Boil the corn on the stove or in the microwave and set aside to cool, then cut off the cob.
Barely cover the bottom of a large pot with oil and heat to medium-high. Add the diced onion and cook until translucent. Reduce to medium heat then add tomatoes and corn (if using fresh tomatoes, cook at medium heat for approximately 15 minutes, or until tender). Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
Add roasted vegetables and herbs; simmer for 5-10 minutes (the fresh herbs should be wilted at this point). Stir in vinegar and serve warm. If you prefer thicker ratatouille, cook longer, uncovered, to allow the stew to reduce.
Without Power (Grilled) Method:
Brush cut peppers, eggplant, squash, cleaned corn and okra with oil. Place okra and any small pieces of peppers onto a lightly oiled piece of aluminum foil over medium grill flame; lay remaining vegetables directly onto the grill grate. Turn the vegetables when lightly browned and fork tender (vegetables touching the grill grate directly will have char marks). Remove to a plate when cooked; when cool enough to handle, cut all grilled veggies into 1/2 – 1 inch pieces and remove corn from the cob.
Place a large flat-bottomed pot onto the hot grill over medium flame. Barely cover the bottom with oil and add the diced onion. Cook while stirring until the onion is translucent. Add tomatoes (if using fresh tomatoes, cook over medium flame for approximately 10 minutes, or until tender). Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
Add grilled vegetables and herbs; simmer for 5-10 minutes (the fresh herbs should be wilted at this point). Stir in vinegar and serve warm. If you prefer thicker ratatouille, cook longer over low flame and uncovered, to allow the stew to reduce.