The completed Ratatouille ready to be served is silky without being fatty and incredibly good served hot and fresh or served chilled the next day once the flavors have fully infused.
A Ratatouille is a simple Provençal vegetable stew made of eggplant, tomatoes, and bell peppers. It is hearty, extremely good for you, and what’s more important the stew is very, very good to eat. My preparation is based upon the classic recipe I learned at Le Cordon Bleu with some modern adaptations taken from The Gourmet Cookbook. This version of Ratatouille is light and fresh while retaining the deep, complex flavor of heavier versions. I achieve this balance by taking the time to sauté each of the vegetables individually before finally stewing them together with the rich, earthy tomato base. The result is a tapestry of flavor, with the individual character of all of the different vegetables respected while they come together to achieve a higher purpose.
A standard 10 or 12-inch French knife
A standard paring knife
A large, fireproof enamel pot or a cast-iron dutch oven.
2 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes
1 large head of garlic
20 fresh basil leaves
1 cup of fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley
1 1/2 cups of extra virgin olive oil
coarse kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
2 large yellow onions
3 assorted bell peppers
4 medium zucchini
1. I start by peeling and chopping the tomatoes, mincing the garlic, chopping the parsley, tearing the basil leaves in half.
a.) How to properly peel tomatoes:
The following is a classical French technique for peeling tomatoes called tomato concassé. The process is fast and incredibly easy. You will need a small pot of boiling water, a stainless steel bowl of ice water, a pair of cooking tongs, and a small paring knife.
Begin by cutting a small plus sign into the non-stem end of the tomatoes with your paring knife. The cut will be approximately 1/4 inch deep and 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch.
Repeat the process for all of the tomatoes.
Using a pair of tongs submerge each of the tomatoes into boiling water for about 30 seconds.
Shock the tomatoes by moving them directly from the boiling water into an ice water bath. This stops them from cooking and loosens the skin.
The tomato skins fall off easily. Completely peel each tomato in this fashion and discard the skins.
Chop the tomatoes like so and set aside.
b.) Properly mincing garlic:
A properly trained cook has no need for an expensive garlic press or any such gadget. All that is needed is a basic 10 or 12-inch French (or Chef) knife and a cutting board. Garlic presses are cumbersome, time-wasting contraptions waste much of the garlic in each clove and worse yet rob you of much of the flavorful garlic oil this technique retains.
We begin by breaking the bead apart with our hands and throwing away as much of the papery skin as possible, retaining the cloves.Smash the garlic cloves one by one with the flat side of your knife, pull the garlic meat out of the peel and discard the peels.
Pull all of the smashed garlic into a tight mound and begin mincing. The mincing technique is done by holding your knife like so and running it rapidly of the the garlic in an up-and-down motion until the mound is reduced to a uniform mass of very finely minced garlic.
The garlic is ready when it looks like this, set aside with the tomatoes.
c.) Chopping the parsley
Cut away roughly one cup of the parsley and discard the stems.Chop the parsley in the same fashion as your minced the garlic, leaving the finished product slightly more coarse than the garlic. Set aside with the tomatoes and garlic.
d.) Tear the basil leaves in half
Select the largest, cleanest basil leaves from your bunch.Tear in half lengthwise, like so, and add to the tomatoes, parsley, and garlic.
2. Combine the prepared tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil, and about 1/2 cup of olive oil in your enamel pot or dutch oven , bring to a simmer, and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes or as long as it takes for your to prepare the rest of the ingredients in the following steps.
The fresh ingredients at the start of cooking.The tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and basil after cooking down at a low simmer for about 30 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering prepare the rest of the ingredients.
3. Begin by preparing the eggplant
Start by cutting the eggplant into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces.Toss the pieces of eggplant with kosher salt and set in a colander in the sink. This process extracts extra moisture from the vegetable and prepares it for sautéing later on.
4. While the eggplant sits in the colander prepare the onions.
Peel the onions and cut them into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces, like so.Put about 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet and get it searing hot over a high flame. A proper sauté is done at very high heat, the purpose is to quickly caramelize the outside of the onion to lock in the moisture. A proper sauté is actually a relatively healthy technique because the high heat does not allow the onion to absorb the oil in the pan. Sauté the onions for about 10 minutes or until they are golden, like this. Set aside in a large bowl.
5. Prepare the bell peppers
Cut the bell peppers into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces and sauté in the same fashion as the onions. Season with kosher salt and sauté for about 10 minutes or until the bell peppers are browning slightly at the edges. Pull out with a slotted spoon and put in the bowl with the onions.
6. Prepare the zucchini
Cut the zucchini into approximately 1-inch by 1-inch pieces, like so.
.Add another 3 tablespoons of oil to your pan and sauté the zucchini in the same fashion as the bell peppers and onions, seasoning with kosher salt. Removed with a slotted spoon to the bowl of onions and bell peppers after about 10 minutes or once the zucchini turns golden brown.
7. Prepare the eggplant
Remove the eggplant from the colander and blot off any excess moisture with paper towels. The eggplant will not sauté properly if it is too moist.
Add another 3 tablespoons to your pan and sauté in the same fashion as the onion, bell pepper, and zucchini. Sauté for about 10 minutes or until the eggplant turns slightly brown around the edges, as pictured, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and add to the bowl with your other vegetables.
8. Add the bowl of prepared vegetables to the simmering tomato base.
Using a mortar and pestle grind your peppercorns and kosher salt together, set aside.
Add the prepared vegetables from the bowl to the pot with the simmering tomato mixture, season with the freshly ground peppercorns and salt, and stir thoroughly to combine.
9. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are very tender, about an hour.
After about an hour of slowly cooking at a low simmer your ratatouille will look like this. Taste for seasoning and season with salt as necessary.
Bon Appétit! This recipe yields about 8 to 10 servings and is very good when served immediately but can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. As the stew rests in the refrigerator the flavors have more of a chance to infuse and on a hot day there is nothing nearly as refreshing to serve as this perfect, chilled ratatouille.