I suppose that many people got their first inkling that there is such a thing as Ratatouille when they saw the animated film of the same title. Hopefully they were impelled to try it, but if you have never tried it yourself, it is definitely a French classic, right up there with Cassoulet and Souffle.
If you are going to entertain a vegetarian or prepare something for a crowd, like a potluck dish, I couldn't be more enthusiastic about recommending a long day in and out of the kitchen preparing this vegetable casserole. You are going to need a lot of vegetables, by the way, so plan a shopping trip--I'm doing the same.
The Ratatouille keeps wonderfully, so by all means make it the day before if it has to go anywhere. It can also be prepared in a slow cooker--just do the browning on top of the stove and then transfer everything into the slow cooker for the long braise. Just allow long enough for the vegetables to get as rich as Ratatouille is supposed to be.
Couple of notes: I would recommend making this dish with vegetable stock, because it is richer in flavor and you will be skipping the usual chicken broth. Also, even though I am accustomed to skinning and peeling tomatoes, it is perhaps a little more trouble than it merits to do it as part of this recipe. I will pick up some canned tomatoes and have at it.
The best place in Tucson to get organic produce, depending on where you live, is Sprouts or Safeway. Both stores have prominently-marked organic displays, so you can find the organics easily. I buy it frequently at the Safeway on Broadway and Campbell.
If you live further north and in Midtown Tucson, try the Food Conspiracy Co-Op, where all the produce is locally-sourced and organic.
However, for the purposes of research I plan to check out Basha's and Albertson's for organic produce and I will report back soon.
1 pound organic yellow onions, chopped
3 cloves organic garlic, crushed
1 pound organic zucchini, chopped
1 pound organic yellow squash, chopped
Organic bell peppers, seeds removed, chopped into 1/2-inch square pieces:
1 pound green bell peppers
1/2 pound red bell peppers
1/2 pound yellow bell peppers
1 one-pound organic eggplant, 1/2 inch cubes
1 pound fresh ripe organic tomatoes (or equal amount of high quality canned tomatoes, chopped)
1/4 cup organic olive oil plus 2 Tablespoons, separated
Sea salt to taste
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1-inch sprig rosemary
3/4 cup organic vegetable stock (or thin tomato juice)
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Using a large Dutch oven over medium high heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and reduce the heat to low.
While the onions and garlic are cooking over low heat, put the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a another frying pan over high heat. As soon as the oil starts to smoke, quickly add enough zucchini cubes all at once to cover the bottom of the pan. Keep on cooking over high heat, stirring, until the zucchini is lightly browned on all sides. Remove the zucchini cubes and add them to pan with the onions.
Working in batches, repeat this process until all of the zucchini cubes have been cooked. Do the same with the yellow squash. Make sure to add a little olive oil between each new batch. Continue with the bell peppers, then the eggplant cubes, adding the browned vegetables to the onion pan as soon as they are cooked.
When all the vegetables (except the tomatoes) are browned and in the pan with the onions, increase the heat to high and stir, making sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan. Add salt to taste, thyme, bay leaf, and rosemary, the vegetable stock, and stir well. Place the pot of vegetables in the oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Alternatively you can cook them on the stovetop on low heat for 30 minutes.
If using fresh tomatoes, boil enough water to cover them in a saucepan on the stove. Remove the stems from the tomatoes, and crisscross the bottoms with a knife. Plunge into boiling water for a minute or two, until the skin starts to fall away. Rinse in cold water and remove the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise, remove the seeds, chop coarsely, and set aside.
After the vegetables have been in the oven for a half hour, remove them from the oven, drain the vegetables (including the canned tomatoes if you are using them) in a colander set over a bowl. Clean any browned bits off the bottom of the Dutch oven with a paper towel. Return any liquid to the pan and reduce to a thick glaze over medium high heat. Keep on adding juices to the pan as they run out of the vegetables into the bowl.
When all the juices have been reduced, return vegetables to the Dutch oven. At this point the ratatouille should be moist and shiny, with very little liquid. Turn the heat off. Add the chopped fresh or canned tomatoes and cover. If serving as a warm side dish, let the ratatouille stand for 10 minutes, just enough to "cook" the fresh tomatoes. The ratatouille can be served at room temperature or refrigerated and reheated the next day.
When ready to serve, remove the bay leaf, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
The recipe should be followed this way: prepare the fresh tomatoes as directed, but realize that they will not have a great deal of juice as compared to the canned tomatoes. So follow the directions given for the fresh tomatoes, and if you are using them canned, add and drain the canned tomatoes as I have put in.
This recipe comes from the Huffington Post Food page, and you can look it up there for more information if the recipe seems confusing. If it is, it's my fault.