We are butting heads over ratatouille at my house. I made this recipe for the first time a few months ago (Where did I get it, though? Can’t remember) during my early experimentations with eggplant and really liked it—the sweetness of the onions, the smokiness of the eggplant, the freshness of the other vegetables, the brightness of the herbs. A was not so enthused. At first he said it was OK, but then after I made it a second time he revealed he didn’t really enjoy it. He said it was like pasta sauce with no pasta. Lord knows we don’t need any more pasta recipes, so putting it over pasta was out. But I was open to the idea of serving it some other way, maybe over bread, like a sandwich? Then I was reading Ready When You Are: A Compendium of Comforting One-Dish Meals by Martha Rose Schulman, and saw that after her ratatouille recipe (which was pretty much the same as mine) she listed some things to do with leftover eggplant, including a gratin that sounded quite tasty. That would employ 2½ cups of ratatouille—but what to do with the rest? Eventually I concocted a crazy Tuesday-night cooking itinerary in which I would (1) make ratatouille, a somewhat time-consuming recipe in itself; (2) serve some of the ratatouille with mozzarella on toasted French bread; and (3) make the rest into a gratin to have for lunch the next day. All before the finale of The Amazing Race began at 9:00.
Astoundingly, it worked out just fine. Granted, I cut a few corners, but it didn’t affect the quality of the food as far as I’m concerned. For instance, the letting the eggplant sit in the colander for 1-3 hours--I had done this in the past (I usually make ratatouille on Sundays, since it’s slightly time-consuming), but this time I just couldn’t be bothered. I skipped all of it. And it didn’t really affect the taste or texture in any negative way I could ascertain. I guess the salt is supposed to draw out the moisture? and pressing it, of course, makes it squooshier. Maybe I’d still do it if I had the time, but I believe the lazy or harried person could avoid it with no ill effects. I really could not face peeling the tomatoes, either. The ratatouille is supposed to be rustic anyway, so who cares about a few stray tomato skins?
The ratatouille was tasty as always, hearty but not heavy, and I liked it with the bread and cheese. A called this “a 100% improvement” over plain ratatouille, but then disappointingly admitted he still doesn’t really like ratatouille; I guess it’s a texture thing. That made me a bit cranky, as I now have to feel guilty about inflicting it on him in the future. The gratin looked yummy coming out of the oven. By the time lunch rolled around today and it came time to try some, however, I was skeptical, remembering I don’t really like eggs all that much, the crispy top would be soggy, and I’m suddenly feeling under the weather with either allergies or a cold (drippy nose, muffled sense of taste, reduced appetite). It was really good, though—and even, as Martha Rose Schulman promised, comforting. Enough so that I wished for a bigger piece, which is testamonial enough, I think.
So: many ways to eat your ratatouille. I bet it would also be good over pasta, or even maybe over chicken. Martha also suggests serving ratatouille in a tart, omelettes, frittata, or crepes. But to me, it will always be fine just plain, too. Even if I have to eat it alone and in secret, away from Mr. Unappreciative.
Postscript, December 2009: I guess A finally defeated me, because I never make this anymore. I don't really feel the urge to revisit it, either, so it's moving to the sad "not favorites" category.
2 large eggplants (2-2½ pounds total)
2 large zucchini (about 1½ pounds total)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 medium ripe tomatoes, cored, peeled, and cut into 2-inch cubes (you can skip peeling if you want)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1. Trim the ends off the eggplant, discard, and cut the rest of the eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Place in a colander, sprinkle it with 2 teaspoons salt, let it stand 1-3 hours, rinse it well, and press it between paper towels until it's dry, firm, and compressed. (If you're in a hurry, it's OK to let the salted eggplant sit for less than an hour.)
2. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Line one or two large rimmed baking sheets with tinfoil (you need enough space to fit all the eggplant and zucchini in a single layer). Put the eggplant on the baking sheet(s), then trim and cube the zucchini and add that. Toss the eggplant and zucchini with 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in the oven until well browned and tender, about 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
4. When the onions are thoroughly soft and caramelized, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the tomatoes and cook them until they began to break down, about 5 minutes.
5. When the eggplant and zucchini have finished roasting, remove from the oven and add to the skillet, stirring gently until all the ingredients are combined. Cook everything for about 5 minutes, add the herbs and salt and pepper to taste, and it's done.
Time: 1 hour
RATATOUILLE ON CHEESY TOAST (my own invention)
When the ratatouille was done, I scooped out 2½ cups to use for the gratin and then turned on the broiler in the oven. I took the tinfoil off my baking sheet and threw it away, and the baking sheet was pretty clean underneath, so I kept on using it. I sliced some French bread (I did two servings of two large slices each), laid the slices on the baking sheet, and broiled them just for 30 seconds to a minute, until they had firmed up but hadn’t started to brown. Took them out of the oven, sliced some mozzarella cheese, set it atop the bread, stuck it back in the oven, and broiled it very briefly, until the cheese was melted and just starting to get browned. I’d recommend actually standing there and watching it cook, because it cooks so fast (I burned the first two slices of bread I tried to do and had to start over). Put the cheesy toasts on some plates and spoon ratatouille over them. I ate this with my fingers, like big pieces of bruschetta, but you could use a knife and fork, or make a sandwich or something. This fed two of us, and there was enough ratatouille left over to cover two more slices of bread if I’d had them; I put it in a Tupperware container in the fridge for later. Next, I moved on to the gratin.
Serves: however many or few you want (probably 8, if you used all the ratatouille and didn’t make a gratin)
Time: a few minutes
2 to 2½ cups ratatouille
¾ cup milk or less
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (½ cup, tightly packed)
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (¼ cup)
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and oil a 2-quart Pyrex baking dish.
2. Martha says to “Place the ratatouille in a strainer or colander set over a bowl. Let drain for 5 minutes.” Then you’re supposed to take whatever liquid accumulates in the bowl and measure it out, adding enough milk to total ¾ cup. She suggests you should only need ½ cup of milk, and the remaining ¼ cup should be gratin liquid. Well, here’s where Martha’s ratatouille and mine must differ, because I tried this and mine generated about 1 teaspoon of liquid. So, the full ¾ cup of milk for me, and I probably could have skipped the draining entirely.
3. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then beat in the milk (which, hypothetically, is mixed with ratatouille liquid), salt, and pepper. Stir in the ratatouille and Gruyere. Pour all of this into the baking dish.
4. In a smaller bowl, toss together the bread crumbs, olive oil, and Parmesan. Sprinkle this in an even layer over the top of the gratin. Bake 30-40 minutes, until browned and fairly firm. Cut it into fourths and serve.
Time: 45 minutes, mostly baking time