Offering a final burst of colorful life, farmers' markets and home gardens are currently overflowing with deep purple eggplant, red and green bell peppers, heaps of summer squash, juicy tomatoes and basil in bunches as big as bushes. Which, of course, can only mean one thing: It's time to make ratatouille.

Creating this quintessential Provencal dish of stewed vegetables used to be quite time consuming. But I stopped using Julia Child's more authentic method years ago, which called for cooking each vegetable individually before combining them in one generous casserole. Instead, I have worked over the years to create a ratatouille recipe you can prepare in minutes rather than hours.

This updated recipe uses a modest amount of olive oil in place of the lavish amount traditional recipes call for. It also fits today's need to feed fewer people than the horde of eaters it often provided for (the recipe serves five).

While many diners love a traditional ratatouille, I sometimes like to add variety. I have developed a number of versions with a twist, such as including apples or American Southwestern flavors like chile peppers and corn.

Most recently, the movie "Ratatouille" served as my inspiration; it featured the dish baked in the wide, shallow dish called a gratin. Though elegantly topped with whole-wheat breadcrumbs, the dish did not seem hearty enough. So I turned this healthy vegetable dish into a meatless main course that provides a serving of protein.

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First, I added cubed tofu to the ratatouille, but the result tasted like a "health-food" casserole. Back to the drawing board I went, mixing the tofu and crunchy bready crumbs in a food processor to produce the nutty topping you find here.

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Delicious served hot or at room temperature, this gratin is a complete and substantial meal that pleases everyone.

Ratatouille Gratin

Makes 5 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 large beefsteak-type tomato, cut into 10 wedges
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil or 1 tsp. dried
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 8 oz. firm tofu
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, halved and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch crescents
  • 3 garlic cloves, divided
  • 2 cups diced eggplant, in 1inch cubes
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1 inch squares
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch slices

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onions until translucent, 4 minutes. Add two-thirds of garlic, eggplant, red pepper and zucchini, and cook, stirring, until vegetables look moist, 1 minute. Add tomato and basil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender but not soft, 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If pan looks dry, pour in 1/4 cup water. Season vegetables to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon into prepared baking dish.
  3. While vegetables cook, cube tofu. Spread on a double layer of paper towels, top with another sheet, and press firmly to soak up as much moisture as possible from tofu. Crumble tofu until it resembles finely crumbled feta cheese.
  4. Place tofu in mixing bowl. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil, bread crumbs, cheese, oregano, red pepper, remaining garlic and generous pinch of salt and pepper. Using a fork, combine all ingredients. Sprinkle topping in even layer over vegetables.
  5. Bake uncovered, until topping is golden and feels dry and crisp to the touch, 20-25 minutes. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes, and serve hot or warm.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
170 calories
8 g fat
1.5 g saturated fat
16 g carbohydrate
9 g protein
3 g dietary fiber
250 mg sodium