A French classic, this dish offers big taste in a versatile and easy to prepare recipe. It is perfect during and at the end of summer because most of its ingredients are in season.
Originally a peasant dish, it is commonly believed the name is derived from the word rata, which was the French army slang for "chunky stew," combined with touiller, meaning "to stir."
Popularized by the Pixar animated movie, ratatouille is considered by many chefs to be more of a concept than a specific recipe because it can take a number of forms and is open to experimentation.
Start with this classic version, then let your tastes and preferences inspire you to create your own personalized dish. Perhaps your future versions will include sauteed tofu, diced chicken, or a wider variety of seasonal vegetables.
The pairing of eggplant and zucchini creates a wonderful consistency and taste. It also results in a nutritional punch with potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A and C coming from the zucchini, and both vegetables contributing fiber.
A subtle, but key ingredient, is the anchovy, which adds depth to the dish. These small silvery green fish are found in the Mediterranean and along the coasts of Europe, especially in the south. They have a mild, slightly salty and oily flavor.
If so desired, they can be soaked in cold water for a half hour before use to reduce the salt. Since this recipe uses them sparingly, though, that should not be an issue. Mashing prior to combining them with other ingredients releases their flavor and ensures that they are dispersed uniformly throughout the mixture.
The thyme, with its warm, pungent, and somewhat lemony-mint flavor further enhances the dish. A bit of cayenne pepper produces a measure of subtle zest. One of the oldest seasonings in the world, this pepper goes back over 8,000 years to Central and South America.
In recent years the spicy vegetable has gained increased popularity for its capacity to add not only a measure of "heat" to many dishes, but to also enhance and alter the properties of other herbs and spices. It owes its hot flavor to a chemical called "capsaicin." The addition of the balsamic vinegar acts to balance the acidity of the dish.
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Comparable to a vegetable stew, ratatouille can be an appetizer or a main dish, served alone or with brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. For you leftover lovers, ratatouille is actually tastier the day after it is prepared.
St. Tropez Ratatouille
Makes 4 servings.
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
- 4 cups Italian eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 lb. zucchini, cut crosswise into 1-inch sections
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- Leaves from 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 can (28 oz) of chopped tomatoes
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
- In medium saucepan heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add eggplant, season generously with salt and pepper, and let cook down for 10 to 12 minutes, until the eggplant is soft and wilted. Remove the eggplant from the pan and onto a platter.
- Add zucchini. Cook for about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook! Then add to platter with eggplant.
- Add the remaining tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Add anchovies, and mash with the back of spoon. (Although some don't think they like anchovies, in a dish like this they add depth). Add onions, garlic and herbs. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions caramelize.
- Add tomatoes and cook down for 10 to 12 minutes, until pulpy. Return the eggplant and zucchini to the pan. Season with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and vinegar.
- Let ratatouille cook slowly for about 15 minutes, enabling flavors to come together.
- Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be served alone or over rice, pasta, or boiled cubed potatoes.
Nutritional Information Per Serving:
11 g total fat
1.5 g saturated fat
26 g carbohydrate
5 g protein
9 g dietary fiber
115 mg sodium