When you think of comfort foods, what comes to mind; Mac and Cheese, Pizza, Hamburgers, Chili or soup? Vegetables (unless in soup) aren’t exactly on the top of my personal comfort food list. But classic Ratatouille is a pheasant vegetable stew prepared with squash, tomato, eggplant, garlic and onions that can feed the soul. Like most comfort foods, it has evolved over time and been influenced by generations of cooks.
I reviewed several recipes and the lists of ingredients for Ratatouille are almost always the same. But each recipe contained a tip to prepare this classic dish, or one or two additional ingredients. Some chefs/cooks prepare it as a stew while others prefer a more casserole like preparation. I personally liked the casserole version and that’s what I am sharing it with you today.
Traditionally Ratatouille is a main course served with crusty bread, but is served today over a bed of brown rice, couscous or pasta. You can also make the dish a bit more filling by topping it with a dollop of mascarpone or chevre cheese. It can also serve as a side for grilled meats or fish. Personally, I would pair this with grilled beef or lamb if not serving as my main.
Preparation for most versions of this dish are about 90 minutes. You want to allow time for the vegetables to become soft from the cooking but not mushy. The dish can also be prepared a day ahead, chilling after preparation and reheating before serving.
One trick to keep the dish from becoming soggy is to remove water from the eggplant. This is done by a process called degorgement using salt. Place a single layer of paper towel on a plate. Place the cut eggplant on the towel and sprinkle with salt (about 1 ½ to 1 ¾ tsp per pound of eggplant) and allow it to sit. The salt will cause the eggplant to give up moisture which will be absorbed by the towel.
If you utilize this technique, remember to adjust the salt in the recipe accordingly or you may not like the results. You shouldn’t need this step with today’s recipe as it calls for additional water which will cook out during baking.
Live, Laugh, Love and Eat More Vegetables!
Baked version – Serves two to four as main or side
Total preparation time 90 minutes
Place rack in top 1/3 of the oven and preheat oven to 375°F.
In a 10x10 inch square or 12-inch diameter round baking dish, spread the bottom with the tomato paste. Sprinkle with the onion and garlic and stir in 1 TBSP of olive oil and the water until thoroughly combined. Season with salt and black pepper.
Arrange alternating slices of the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, and yellow bell pepper, starting on the outer edge of the dish and working concentrically toward the center. Overlap the slices a little to display the colors. Drizzle the vegetables with the remaining 3 TBSP of olive oil and season the top with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle on the thyme leaves. Cover the vegetables with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit just inside the rim of the dish.
Bake in preheated oven until vegetables are roasted and tender, about 45 minutes. Serve with dollops of cheese or over rice, pasta, couscous or with a piece of crusty bread.