Ratatouille…. I’ll wager it is one of those dishes that leaves very few on the fence. I’d also wager the distribution of fence dwellers isn’t even. What better challenge, then, than to make a classic dish whose heyday may be past but whose opportunity for a triumphant return remains.
I previously remarked that if you put enough eggplant in someone’s CSA bin, Moussaka is sure to show up eventually. The same could be said about ratatouille which, along with Eggplant Parmigiana, round out the three most famous eggplant dishes (I bet you can guess which will come next).
I myself used to be on the fence about ratatouille — so I can relate to those of you who think “yuck, eggplant.” Last winter, I did some research and I came upon Julia Child’s recipe, which I turned out with great success. There are few better teachers of classic French cuisine. So this past weekend, I decided to my ratatouille success, and, inspired by technique I used in my moussaka triumphant , I decided that I’d take Julia Child’s classic recipe to the grill … and, of course, make a few other changes as well.
My ambition in doing this was twofold and it was not to try and outdo Ms Child (who could?) nor was it just to try something different for the sake of being different. It was this: I wanted to bring more flavour to the dish and I wanted to change the texture. Many classic French dishes such as stews and sauces instruct you to roast your veggies as part of the preparation. The expectation is that, in roasting the veggies (vs. sauteing), you’re going to create caramelization and concentrate the flavours. I don’t know about you, but I’m not much inclined to turn on my oven in the summer, even on the Labour Day long-weekend. But as I say, I was buoyed by my successful technique in the moussaka, so I thought, why wouldn’t this work too to create a richer ratatouille with a greater tooth feel? What follows is my successful experiment.
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1h35
Servings: 4-6 (main vs. sides)
- 1 lb (1 large) eggplant, sliced
- 1 lb (2 medium) zucchini, sliced
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 bell peppers (choose your two colours), halved
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, roasted
- 1 lb (4-5 medium) fresh tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon (1 sprig) fresh thyme, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chiffonade
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chiffonade
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup water
- salt and pepper to taste
- olive oil
- Peel the eggplant and slice eggplant into 1cm (1/4″ or slightly thicker) slices.Layer the eggplant on top of a paper towel and sprinkle with salt.
Cover with another layer of paper towel. Let stand for about 40 minutes to remove as much excess water (and bitterness) from the eggplant as possible. Remove paper towel and pat dry the eggplant.
- While the eggplant is being salted, do the rest of your prep. Clean and slice the zucchini slices the same thickness as the eggplant (1 cm). Cut the peppers in half and remove seeds and pith and stems. Set aside.
- Chop the herbs: remove thyme leaves from stem and mince; remove parsley from stems and cut chiffonade; roll basil and chop chiffonade. Set aside.
- Prepare to remove the bitter and indigestible skins and seeds from the tomatoes. Boil water in a kettle. Clean tomatoes and cut a cross in the bottom of each. Place in a glass bowl and blanch with boiling water. Let stand for 3-4 minutes.
Drain water and peel the tomatoes.
Cut the tomatoes into quarters or thirds and, using your thumb, remove the seed-sacks from each segment.
Place these sacks into a mesh strainer over a bowl. Using your fingers or the back of spoon, strain out the liquid from the seed sacks into the bowl. Discard the seeds.
Chop the peeled and seeded tomatoes and add them to the bowl with the tomato liquid.
- Preheat your barbecue grill to 375ºF.
- Once the eggplant is ready, on a large platter, oil the eggplant, zucchini, and the peppers. Carefully place the oiled veggies, along with a head of garlic, on the grill.
Grill for 5 minutes on one side then turn all veggies (except garlic) once nice grill marks have appeared.
Grill for 3-4 minutes on the other side. Watch carefully to avoid burning anything.
Remove from grill and then turn the garlic and let garlic roast for an additional 10 minutes.
- While the garlic is cooking, heat a pan over medium-high heat and chop the onion. Add tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and saute the onions for 10 minutes until golden.
- Remove roasted garlic from the grill and add 2 cloves to the onions, mashing with back of spatula to mix it evenly.
→ Remaining garlic will keep in the fridge for 5-7 days in a container and can be used in numerous recipes.
- Leave grill on.
- Remove from heat and add the diced tomatoes, juice thyme, basil, and parsley to the onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir, and portion off 2/3 of the onion-tomato mixture, leaving 1/3 in the bottom of the pan.
- Remove the skin from the cooled bell peppers (optional) and slice. Set aside.
- Add bay leaf and then layer with half the eggplant, then half the zucchini. Sprinkle with half the sliced peppers and then top with another third of the tomato mixture.
Layer with remaining eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. Top with remaining tomato mixture and sprinkle with sea salt.
→ Depending on how juicy your tomatoes, you may choose to add 1-4 tablespoons of water over the ratatouille.
- Cover and put pan on the grill and cook for 15 minutes until mixture comes to a strong simmering boil.
- Remove from grill and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
- Serve on plates as either a side or a main course.
Wine Pairing: a full-bodied white wine such as a Viognier.