When I think of Ratatouille the first thing I think about is that cute animated movie from a few years ago. The adorable rat, Remy, who dreamed of being a chef and had so much gumption that he worked until he made it happen. I never knew how much you could learn from a rat! Seriously, animated movies sometimes have great life lessons! That’s for another day though.
I love that movie and the dish with its name is one of my favorites. Other than chopping a lot of vegetables, it’s pretty easy to make. This recipe makes a lot and it freezes well. One recipe makes enough for a few dinners. It is an ideal dish to make on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon and you have the added bonus of the house smelling wonderful while it’s cooking!
This dish is thought to have originated in the Nice or somewhere in the Provance region of France. The area borders Italy, right along the Mediterranean so if you thought it was Italian, you aren’t far off. Since both tomatoes and zucchini originated in America, it is likely the dish started as a type of vegetable stew. As zucchini and tomatoes made their way to Europe, what we know as Ratatouille, became more common.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter where it is from, it is a classic dish that reminds me of summer. I make a big pot of it and freeze small portions so I can enjoy it all winter long. It’s especially good on a cold night when I’m longing for summer!
Last week, that Thursday happened to be “National Zucchini Day” so I picked up a few zucchini on my weekly visit to our Farmer’s Market. I had to honor the day!
Every Thursday (or just about) during the summer I try to take a walk during my lunch break to the Farmer’s Market in downtown Pittsburgh. I get some fresh air, a bit of exercise and I see what is in season. Sometimes I find really unique or less well-known foods, like garlic scapes or an unusual squash but most of the time I pick up everyday fruits and vegetables for the week. I love supporting our local farmers when I can.
With those zucchini, I grabbed a couple of summer squash, a small basket of tomatoes, and an eggplant, and I had just about everything I needed.
To make the Ratatouille
There are many different ways to make this. I’ve seen recipes for grilled and roasted ratatouille and have tried those, but they are really time-consuming. I prefer to make it all in one pot, on the top of the stove. I chop all my vegetables ahead so they are ready to add when I need them, leaving the eggplant to the very end. (Eggplant can turn a bit grey if you cut it too early). Then add everything in stages. I think it builds the flavor nicely and the vegetables cook just the right amount. Nothing gets over-cooked this way.
Note: Some people will slice their eggplant in rounds, place it on racks and salt it and allow it to sit for an hour or more to draw the liquid out before cooking. Supposedly it draws the bitter flavor out. I’ve done that but don’t think it is necessary for this dish. The flavor blends into the dish nicely.
I add the seasoning (thyme, salt, and pepper) throughout the cooking process. I think it also helps build the flavor of the dish better than adding it all at once.
It is the perfect dish to make on a lazy summer afternoon. The house smells great and it is the perfect side dish for grilled meats or fish. Although, my favorite way to enjoy it is over pasta with a bit of fresh mozzarella melted on top.
I like to freeze this in 2 cup portions, and that is the perfect size for just the 2 of us but you can freeze as much as you want. Keep in mind the larger the amount, the longer it will take to freeze. Freezing in smaller portions is better in general.
I use plastic containers that I can stack in my freezer and put a date on the side so I know when I made it. Dating it is important so aren’t wondering months from now if it is still okay to eat! Believe me, I’ve done that and am trying to get better about putting dates on things.
It will keep for about 6 months before you start to lose some quality. This recipe will last us through the winter and it makes a quick meal on a hurried winter night!
- 1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 cups sliced onions (about 1/2 a large onion)
- 2 cups diced bell pepper use a variety of red, yellow and orange
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 2 medium zucchini cut in 1/2 inch dices about 6 cups
- 1 medium summer squash cut in 1/2 inch dices about 3 cups
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch dices about 6 cups
- 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
- 6 cups diced fresh tomatoes
- Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium-low heat.
- Add the onion and cook for ~ 10 minutes, until just softened, being careful not to allow it to burn. Add 1 tsp. of thyme and a little salt and pepper halfway through cooking.
- Add the peppers and garlic and cook for 5 minutes watching carefully so the garlic doesn't burn.
- Add the zucchini, squash, and eggplant and cook for 5 minutes, turning the vegetables carefully halfway through.
- Stir in the tomatoes and all the juice well. Add an additional tsp. of thyme, a little more salt, and pepper. Allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes with the cover on, turning it every 10 minutes. The vegetables should be just softened and the tomatoes cooked down. Sprinkle with the remaining thyme just before serving and taste to see if it needs more salt or pepper.
- Allow the vegetables to cool.
- Place smaller amounts (2 – 4 cups) in individual plastic containers or in large Ziploc bags.
- Put the date on the outside of the container and place them in the freezer. Spread them out on different shelves of your freezer if possible so they freeze quickly. (avoid freezing all together or in one large container as it will take too long to freeze)