It must have been the sound of women’s gymnastics in the background. I wanted to make ratatouille, but didn’t want it in just one form. I wanted two incarnations, two opposing flavor profiles. A competition of nations. So, I made rata-TWO-ie.
One incarnation took us from a peasant village in the south of France to Italy and, another, from France to the warm beaches of Greece. (I stand by that last sentence.)
I don’t claim to have the most traditional ratatouille recipe – in fact, this time around I added butter. Is that ever a mistake? And, each time I make it, I’ll vary the proportion of red pepper to zucchini to eggplant and the ratatouille gods never strike me down. This is also the perfect recipe to use all the fantastic looking squash at the farmers market. Of course, I didn’t have this urge to make ratatouille until after the farmers market closed. Typical. Chilled supermarket veggies would have to do. Who doesn’t like a little refrigerator condensation on their tomatoes?
After I chopped and layered the veggies in the pot, I prepared Greek yogurt with minced garlic, salt and lemon zest which would complement the finished ratatouille with a little toasted pita. In a good half an hour, the garlic and lemon would have time to fully incorporate into the thick yogurt.
As I swirled a glass of Grüner Veltliner and listened to the ratatouille simmering (under the sounds of thumping feet on a balance beam) the only thing left to do was boil pasta. Not much strain for a two plate competition.
In the end, it was a question of taste. At first, I was drawn to the comforting bowl of pasta, flavorful veggies and melting Pecorino. Once finished, I felt ready to enjoy a little hot pita and ratatouille with tart yogurt. I was full and satisfied after my little journey to the Mediterranean. To keep up the spirit of competition, I tried to name a winner but my score kept changing based on my transient mood. In fact, the next day, I mixed a dollop of the lemony yogurt on the ratatouille and pasta and it was extremely satisfying. Maybe this wasn’t a head to head competition. Maybe I had uncovered an Olympic team of flavors with strengths to be mixed and matched. Cue the anthem.
I’ve made many renditions of this recipe, as there are no steadfast rules. It is, essentially, a classic, Provençal peasant dish of slowly stewed vegetables. I’ve found that the order of vegetables added to the pan doesn’t matter too much as long as all of the ingredients have had ample time to cook, simmer and mingle. Of course, if you have any fresh herbs lying around (i.e. parsley or basil) it never hurts to throw those in as well.
1 large (or 2 small) eggplants – 1 inch dice
1 large zucchini – 1 inch dice
3-4 medium-sized tomatoes – chopped (or 1 whole carton of halved grape tomatoes)
1 red bell pepper – 1 inch dice
1 large Spanish onion – diced
1 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
1 tablespoon thyme
3 bay leaves
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon pepper (to taste)
¼ cup olive oil
(optional: 5 tablespoons butter)
Using a dutch oven or large sauté pan over medium heat, cook eggplant in olive oil for about 5 minutes until starting to soften. If eggplant begins to dry up, add oil as needed. Mix in zucchini, onion, bell pepper, Herbes de Provence, thyme and bay leaves. Partially cover pan and reduce heat to a simmer – cook for an additional 5-10 minutes. Mix in tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper. Fully cover and continue to simmer on low for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in butter, remove bay leaves, add more salt/pepper if needed and serve.
Quick Lemon Garlic Yogurt
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (such as Fage)
Zest of half a lemon, plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in bowl, cover and allow 30 minutes before serving. Can be kept refrigerated for up to 3 days.