Ratatouille is an internationally known dish that may have originated in France. It is considered “peasant” food, but the peasants clearly had a good thing going. Nothing would go to waste, and they would use any left over vegetables to make a vegetable stew. Additionally, the vegetables were “rough cut”.
This stew was first mentioned in French back in the 1700s in Provence. The first mention of the word Ratatouille, in the English language, was in Cassell’s dictionary of Cookery in 1877. The modern version of this dish does not appear in print until the 1930s. Some historians believe that the origins of this dish go much farther back and was present in Catalonia and the Basque regions many years before it moved to Southern France. Other historians feel that the Romans had a similar vegetable stew.
Ratatouille is derived from the Occitan term “ratatolha:” and the French words “rata” and “touiller”. The French words mean chunky and stirred up. Although, there are many different versions of this dish, the classic version will have tomato, garlic, onion, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers and green herbs. The modern version is from Nice in the Provencal regions of France. Originally only herbes de Provence was the “official spice blend” used in this dish and if other herbs were used it was no longer a “Ratatouille Nicoise”. One very interesting wrapped variation is the Ratatouille galette which recipe we may have in a future blog.
In the 20th century and beyond Ratatouille has become an iconic dish that is served around the world. The dish can be served as an entrée or as a side dish. It can be served hot or at room temperature. It will improve over time as the flavors meld over 1-2 days. It can be served with a crusty bread to dip into the stew or spooned over rice. It goes great over noodles, although somewhat of an anathema to Provencal Chefs.
The following recipe is my take on this wonderful dish that can be served during the fast (minus the olive oil) or anytime. Healthy, delicious, almost “comfort food” this is a dish you want to serve to your family and friends.
- 2 pounds Eggplant*
- Kosher salt
- 1+ tbsp Peanut Oil***
- 6+ tbps Peanut Oil***
- 4 Medium zucchini cubed
- 1 Red/Orange Bell Pepper cubed
- 1 Yellow Bell Pepper cubed
- 1 Green Bell Pepper cubed
- 5 Garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Yellow sweet onions diced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 4 Roma Tomatoes diced
- 28 ounces Marzano peeled tomatoes
- 2 tsp Honey (and to taste)
- 4 tbsp chopped parsley****
- 2 tsp Thyme, fresh and finely chopped
- 3 tbsp Fresh basil finely chopped
- 2 Bay leaves
- ½ tsp Crushed red pepper flakes*****
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp Mushroom powder (Shataki works well)******
- Slice the eggplant into long strips about ½ inch in thickness. Place the strips on a cookie sheet and sprinkle them with the kosher salt. Let them sit for about 30 minutes to degorge.
- Drain the eggplant stripes and rinse well. Then dry with a clean kitchen towel.
- Place the peanut oil into a fry pan on medium heat. Fry the eggplant stripes until browned on both sides. This may take more than 1 tbsp of peanut oil.
- Once all the stripes are friend nicely brown, set aside to cool enough to handle.
- Cube the eggplant stripes ½ inch cubes and place in a small bowl.
- Mise en place and cube, chop or mince, the zucchini, Bell Peppers, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and the leafy herbs.
- Mise en place the tomato paste and honey into seperate containers.
- Place the peeled tomatoes in a bowl and squish the tomatoes into much smaller pieces. Be careful, these can squirt tomato juice everywhere.
- When all the ingredients are ready, place 2 tbsp of the peanut oil into a large fry pan. Once simering, add the zucchini and bell pepper. Cook until they just begin to brown.
- At the same time, in a large Dutch oven, add 2 tbsp of Peanut Oil and fry the onions until just beginning to brown. Then add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Spread the onions and garlic to the sides of the Dutch oven and add the tomato paste and fry for ~ 1 minute.
- Pour the peeled squished tomatoes into the Dutch over and mix well. Add the cubed eggplant and mix well.
- Add the zucchini, Bell Peppers, onions, garlic to the Dutch Oven and mix well.
- Add the honey, parsley, thyme, basil, red pepper flakes, bay leaves and mushroom powder to the Dutch Oven. Mix well and simmer.
- TASTE. As this cooks, the taste will deepen. So be careful how you salt and pepper the dish. I would give it a good 30 minutes on a simmer, stirring frequently to keep it from burning, until you add salt and pepper. Then add to your taste.
- Frankly, it works great to cook this dish a day or two before serving, as the flavors meld over time and become much deeper. You can, however serve now and it will be delicious. Serve with crusty bread or rice, or as a side for a fish or meat.
- The dish can be froozen and vacume packed and will keep for months in the freezer.
**This can be done on a grill pan, or on the grill.
***For the Orthodox Christian Lenten fast, olive oil is not considered “fast friendly”. But peanut oil or other similar oil, can be used instead. If you are not making this for a fast, please use EVOO, which will add great additional flavor.
****You can use a bouquet garni instead of the herbs as indicated her. Just put thyme sprigs, basil leaves, parsley sprigs, black pepper corns, and the bay leaves in a small muslin bag. But I find it easier to just put the herbs directly into the stew and add pepper as needed. Also you can use herb de provence in place of the fresh herbs.
*****Ground mushroom powder is a great way to add umami to a dish. It is clearly fast friendly. Add 1 tablespoon to this dish and it will kick up the taste, but this is optional to your individual taste.
******Red pepper flakes are spicy and I love them. However, many can not take too much spice. This amount in this dish is enough to give a very light background red pepper flake taste. Almost imperceptible, but it really adds to the taste in my opinion. But you can omit if you wish.