Region: France, Provence
Difficulty: Easy but labor intensive
This famous preparation is world renown and has equally delicious cousins throughout the Mediterranean. Even though many people claim that ratatouille is the quintessential Provençal dish, it is not even listed among the 1,123 recipes in J. B. Reboul’s classic Provençal cookbook from the late nineteenth century, La cuisiniére Provençale. Ratatouille is actually a relatively modern invention, one that could not occur until the tomato came from the New World. Marimar Torres, author of The Catalan Country Kitchen, claims that ratatouille has a connection with samfaina, a kind of fried vegetable ragout, of Catalonia dating back to when Provence was linked politically with Catalonia and Aragon. In any case, throughout the Mediterranean, whenever a regional cuisine attempts to describe its local vegetable ragout, it invariably is described as a “ratatouille.” In French military slang rata, shortened from ratatouille, means a rough stew, the way it should be.
There are many ways of cooking a ratatouille, attested to by the fact that there seems not to be a cookbook that doesn’t proffer ratatouille or an American food magazine that doesn’t present a recipe for it once a month. This recipe is one of the easier ways, but an even better result will occur if you have the time to cook the vegetables separately and then mix them at the end.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Preparation Time: 1:45 hours
1. Lay the eggplant cubes on some paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Leave them to drain of their bitter juices for 30 minutes then pat dry with paper towels.
2. In a large skillet or casserole, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then cook the onions until translucent, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and garlic and shake or stir gently. Add the herbes de Provence, season with salt and pepper, and stir to mix. Cover and simmer over a medium-low heat until much of the liquid is evaporated and the vegetables tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Strain away any remaining liquid and serve at room temperature with bread.
Variation: In step 2, cook each vegetable one after the other, adding more olive oil when required, and mix all the vegetables once they are cooked.