Jun 21st, 2005
I remember the first time I made ratatouille. Jim and I were living in Redlands and our apartment was on the second floor of a rundown old house. It had nice bay windows in the bedroom and a miniature little kitchen with no storage space and a broken garbage disposal that led to a memorable bug infestation. But that tiny, bug infested kitchen was the first kitchen I could ever really call mine and I became slightly enamored with the weekly Dining section in the LA Times. I would clip out these ridiculously complicated recipes that I had neither the budget, skills, or equipment necessary to actually carry out. I believe it was around this time that I talked Steph into helping me make a full multi-course Thanksgiving dinner complete with roast turkey, vegetarian entree, and two kinds of pie. We slaved for days it seemed like, the dinner was consumed in approximately 60 seconds, and then we all proceeded to go out and get monumentally drunk at the Mentone Yacht Club. I have a dim memory of weaving my way home the night with a leftover turkey drumstick clutched in my hand.
The ratatouille was part of another overly elaborate holiday dinner - this time a Valentine's dinner featuring lamb chops. I think this dinner signalled the end of this early gourmet period in my life, as I spent way too much on expensive lamb chops that Jim hated. The ratatouille took forever, the eggplant had to be salted, there were acres of vegetables to chop, and then each different vegetable had to be added to the pot at a different time. Looking back now, it's not such an ambitious recipe, but totally beyond what I should have been attempting at the time. And Jim hated it.
Well I'm over a decade wiser now, my kitchen is slightly less miniscule, and I do a little better at not letting my wild ideas get totally out of control. So on a recent summery weeknight evening, with an eggplant and some zucchini in the fridge, it was time to attempt ratatouille again for the first time in twelve years. With simplicity my new mantra, I opted for an oven-roasted ratatouille where you just cube everything up, throw it in a baking pan and roast it in the oven until done. A rosemary rubbed pork roast cooked alongside the vegetables while we played with the kids in the backyard, and when we sat down to eat at 8:00 a nice white wine and a cucumber & tomato salad with feta rounded out the meal. And Jim loved it.
This is more of a guide than an actual recipe. The required elements are the eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and olive oil. Other than that you can improvise with what you have at hand.
If you prefer to follow a recipe, there are many nice ones out there. This one by Delia Smith is a good starting point.
Oven Roasted Ratatouille1 eggplant, cubed with skin on
2 zucchini, cubed with skin on
4-6 diced smallish tomatoes, either fresh or canned
1 red bell pepper diced would be nice
coarsely chopped spring onions
coarsely chopped garlic
herbs - basil and rosemary are good choices
tomato sauce or reserved juice from canned tomatoes
Cut all the vegetables up into cubes of approximately the same size, except for the green onions, which should be left in 3 inch lengths or they will just shrivel into oblivion. Put them in a roasting pan or rectangular pyrex pan and toss with enough olive oil to coat. Sprinkle the garlic, minced herbs, and sea salt and, using your hands, toss again to distribute.
Roast in the oven at around 400F until done, probably 45 minutes or so. Above ten minutes before cooking is finished add the tomato sauce, just enough to bind the dish together and give it a vaguely stewlike consistency. A little feta crumbled on top of the finished product is not a bad thing at all.