Ratatouille – Something French for Bastille Day

Ratatouille.  A dish most everyone knows but one which has lots of different versions and techniques.  One of the things I love about food (other than cooking and eating) is the debate which can surround it.  There’s Chicago v NYC in hot dogs and pizza, NY v the rest of the world with bagels, milk or no milk in ragu Bolognese; food debates worldwide.  It seems to me ratatouille fits right in to the debatable food category and from what I can gather it’s a very passionate dish regarding technique.  Do you cook the vegetables separately or combine them? Simmer in a pot or bake?  Does it affect the flavor?  Not going to answer any of these questions here.  I’m just going to offer up a passionately debated French dish for a passionate French holiday, Bastille Day.

Ok so where to start?  I remembered my mom makes this dish, she’s got some good French recipes in her collection.  Crack open the little book and voila, a recipe for Baked Ratatouille.  Looked simple enough but the very last ingredient is feta cheese.  Seems odd to me but what do I know?  Maybe the Romans brought some with them when conquering Gaul and teaching the French how to cook (another area of food dispute, who taught who to cook but that’s an argument for a different day).  While researching ratatouille I found plenty of recipes online which had some form of cheese in them so I figured it couldn’t be all that bad and went with it.  I’m glad I did since it definitely adds some flavor to the stewed vegetables.  Turned out to be a good addition.

This recipe does not solve the ratatouille technique debate at all.  In fact I’m probably committing several cardinal sins of ratatouille construction but I’m ok with that.  I mean, on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations tv show he made some ratatouille for guests while in Provence and they were all like “meh.”  So, if Bourdain’s ratatouille didn’t satisfy those Frenchmen then mine probably has no chance.  Best to just make one which tastes good. Cheryl likes this recipe a lot.  She said it wasn’t overly tomatoey and found she could taste the eggplant and zucchini better than in some others she’d had.  Works for me!

I think ratatouille is a great summer recipe since it incorporates all those wonderfully fresh garden vegetables we’re seeing at farmer’s markets (or out of your own garden perhaps?).  You can serve this ratatouille warm or I’d even allow it cool some and scoop it up with baguette slices.  Probably sacrilege in Provence to serve it like that (and with feta no less!) but hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little food revolution on Bastille Day is there?  Bon appetit!

Baked Ratatouille

  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large eggplant, diced w/ skin
  • 2 green peppers, diced
  • 2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped into 1” pieces
  • 1 large zucchini, chopped into 1/2” pieces
  • ½ C fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt and  pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • 4 oz feta

Note:  After making this I can definitely see the benefit of sautéing each vegetable individually and setting aside to recombine later.  When everything is all chopped up you have a massive bowl of vegetables.  I was using a large enameled cast iron pan and had to bust out a second pan to sauté them all at the same time.  After 10 minutes covered, the vegetables had broken down enough to be brought back together in one pan.  Finished everything in the same pan.  Turned out delicious.  But you’ll def need either a huge pan or split it up into two batches.

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add garlic, stir for 1 minute.

Add eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, onion, zucchini, and basil (see note above).  Saute for 5 minutes.

Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 20-25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Uncover and simmer until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally, 5-10 minutes.

Mix in vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Spread vegetables in a baking dish large enough to hold them (or just keep in the same pan if it can go in the oven).  Sprinkle with cheese and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.

Serve with some nice crusty French bread.

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