Ratatouille Niçoise is the dish that helped me get over my fear of eggplant. It's good hot, cold, or at room temperature and shows up year-round as a side dish or filling for omelets and crepes, but is at its best in the summer, when eggplant and zucchini are not yet overgrown and bitter, and fresh ripe tomatoes are available. The first recipe is what is found in many cookbooks, and what most people think of when ratatouille is mentioned: tomatoes, eggplant, onion, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, and some kind of herbs. ( I won't call you out for using best-quality canned tomatoes, but know that if you do, you're cheating yourself out of the full experience.) The recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking has been my standard for 25 years, and produces a garlicky version that is familiar to most Americans who have tried the dish. My current favorite recipe is from Patricia Wells' delightful book Bistro Cooking, and better shows off the bright flavors of summer produce. Many recipes on the web dismiss as "too fussy" the instructions to cook the vegetables seperately and then combine, but it's worth it to do it that way at least once as it really does lead to a better result.
Ratatouille from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
RATATOUILLE FRANCOISE RIGORD
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 5 medium onions (about 1 pound), coarsely minced
Bouquet garni: A handful of fresh thyme and 4 bay leaves, tied with a string
3 large red peppers (about 1 pound), cubed
2 to 3 small eggplants (about 1 pound), cubed
2 to 3 medium zucchini (about 1 pound), cubed
5 medium tomatoes (about 1 pound), cored and cut into eighths
Kosher salt to taste
1 lemon, quartered
A handful of fresh parsley, finely minced.
1. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-low heat. Add the onions and bouquet garni, stir to coat with oil and cook, covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should be tender and light golden. Do not allow them to burn.
2. Add the peppers, stirring gently to mix, and continue cooking until the mixture is very soft, about 30 more minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat another two tablespoons of the oil in a second heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-low heat. Add the eggplant, stir to coat with oil and cook, covered, until soft, about 20 minutes. Stir from time to time to keep the eggplant from sticking to the pan.
4. At the same time, heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil in a third heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-low heat. Add the zucchini, stir to coat with oil and cook, covered, until soft, about 20 minutes. Stir from time to time to keep the zucchini from sticking to the pan.
5. While the eggplant and zucchini cook, add the tomatoes to the onion and pepper mixture. Cook, covered, over low heat, for another 15 minutes.
6. Gently spoon all the vegetables into a colander set over a bowl to collect the liquid. Reduce the collected liquid over high heat until thick and syrupy. Add to the vegetables, stir and season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
7. Remove from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving. Adjust seasoning, sprinkle with lemon juice and freshly minced parsley and serve.