It’s officially summer.
I know it’s summer, not because of the soaring July temperatures, nor because of the farmer-tan lines that I’ve acquired from hours spent in the scorching sun, nor because of the series of bruises on my elbow from my window fan falling out of its place and on top of me during the middle of the night. No, I know it’s summer because of the bounty of locally grown vegetables that are starting to arrive at the market; eggplant, corn, tomatoes, zucchini, are starting to find their way into my shopping basket.
For me, there’s no better dish to prepare that perfectly exemplifies summer than ratatouille. It’s right around here, right when I say the word, “ratatouille” that people start to say, “Oh I love that movie.” Yeah, but see, I’m trying to tell you about the dish. I like that movie too, in fact I own it, but lets talk about ratatouille. No rat jokes, please.
Ratatouille is a dish I remember Mom making when I was a kid. I used to be an extremely picky eater, incapable of stomaching anything but corn, carrots, and broccoli stems (yes just the stems, not the florets – and only with a ranch dipping sauce). I didn’t really care for vegetables, or fish, or much of anything really – unless it was slathered in ketchup, or ranch, or something saucy to mask the identity of whatever I happened to be eating.
Fortunately somewhere on my path of development, I shed my finicky taste buds. I now eat things that make people squeamish. I will try anything at least once before judging it. I wish I had known earlier on in my life, just how good ratatouille was. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is to trust Mom’s cooking. Any fans of my mom’s cooking out there, raise your hand? One, two, three, four, please only raise one hand at a time.
So ratatouille, as hard as it’s to believe, was not invented in Mom’s kitchen; rather it originated in the area around present day Nice. It was initially a meal made by poor farmers, and was prepared in the summer with fresh summer vegetables. Though many will claim that ratatouille is a quintessential Provencal dish, it is oddly not listed among the 1,123 recipes in J.B. Reboul’s classic Provencal cookbook from the late 19th century. It has been suggested that ratatouille is Catalonian and migrated into Southern France because it strongly resembles a dish called samfaina, which is essentially a ratatouille prepared with pieces of fish. However, the entomology suggests that Ratatouille comes from the French word “touiller,” which means to toss.
Regardless of where ratatouille comes from, I will always add my own personal touches, and sorry ratatouille authorities, but I personally don’t like a very “stewed” ratatouille. Rather, I prefer for the vegetables to retain a bit of texture and not be completely mush. Also, I like to put goat cheese on top of it all. Goat cheese is probably one of my favorite ingredients; what chocolate is to David Lebovitz, goat cheese is for me. Goat cheese can go on just about anything and be good: pizza, pasta, mac and cheese, omelets, potato chips, the list goes on…
There’s always a lot of debate on how to prepare ratatouille. Some suggest cooking the vegetables separately and then all together, while others sauté all at once, and others favor ratatouille in a casserole form. I start by sautéing the onions first, and then add ingredients, resulting in one big sauté. I also add a splash of rosé, because I like to play with the idea of if it grows together, it goes together. And also it gives me a reason to drink rosé, which just so happens to be a perfect pairing for ratatouille.
Below you’ll find my recipe. As summer recipes go, this one takes the cake. Just don’t forget the goat cheese!
1 Onion, finely chopped
2 Eggplant, diced
2 Cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 Small Zucchini, diced
2 Patty-pan squash, diced
1 Red Bell Pepper
3 San Marzano/Roma tomatoes, rough chopped
3 Sprigs of Thyme, leaves removed
1/8 Cup dry rosé
1/2 Cup chopped basil (1/4 cup reserved for goat cheese)
4 Ounces of Goat Cheese (chevre works best)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in large pan; add onions and sauté for 5-8 mins, until the start to become translucent. Add eggplant and garlic, sauté 5 mins. Add zucchini, and squash, and bell peppers, sauté 5 mins; add salt and pepper to taste. Add rosé and cook until vegetables have soaked it all up. Add tomatoes and let cook down till some of the juices start coming out, add more salt, thyme and basil, and cook another 10 mins or so.
While ratatouille sautés, combine goat cheese and basil in food processor and pulse. Or just leave cheese out at room temperature while cooking and then mix into bowl with chopped basil.
Plate ratatouille with herbed cheese on top. Serve with bread or on polenta, or as a side dish with grilled chicken.
*If plating for presentation, take 3,4 slices of the patty-pan squash and sauté after tomato is added and use them for stacking to make a ratatouille tower.