Ratatouille with a Kick


Like my husband, this dish is from the south of France. His family introduced it to me long ago and it's been a favorite ever since. In August, the farmer's market is full of all the essential ingredients so I serve it up often. Ratatouille is a hit with vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike. It can be made a day or two in advance.

Ratatouille has a savory flavor with a slight sweetness from the red bell pepper and Vidalia onion. This version is also a little bit spicy, as the fresh chili peppers looked especially good at the farmer's market this week. The traditional version is made without chili pepper, so feel free to omit it. Or make a mild version by removing the seeds and membranes before you mince it.

This dish involves a lot of chopping, but you can do it as you go. While the onion is cooking, chop the vegetables in their order of appearance and add them as you chop them. I used a 1-inch dice, but if you want the dish to cook faster, use a smaller dice.

Ratatouille can make a main dish or accompany almost any protein. Last weekend I served it alongside wild grilled halibut, but shrimp, chicken or tempeh would also work well. Prepare any meat without fanfare, using only olive oil, sea salt and ground peppercorn. The ratatouille is the star here and doesn't need any competition.

Save any leftovers for Ratatouille Baked Eggs: Spoon re-heated ratatouille into ramekins, make an indentation and break an egg or two on top. Sprinkle the eggs with sea salt and ground peppercorn, then broil the dish until the eggs are cooked to your liking. Serve for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
1 large Vidalia onion, or other onion, about 3 cups chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground peppercorn
1 tbsp dried Herbes De Provence
1 medium eggplant chopped into 1-inch cubes, about 3 cups
1 red chili pepper, or other color, minced
2 medium red bell peppers, or other color, chopped into 1-inch pieces, about 3 cups
2 large tomatoes chopped into 1-inch cubes, about 3 cups
2 medium-small zucchini chopped into 1-inch cubes, about 3 cups
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped, to garnish

In the bottom of a large, heavy-bottom pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to brown and stick to the pan, about 15 minutes. Stir in the garlic and continue cooking until it becomes aromatic. Do not burn the garlic.

Add the sea salt, peppercorn, Herbes De Provence, eggplant, chili pepper, bell pepper, tomato and zucchini. Cook until the vegetables have softened, formed a sauce and thickened, about 45 minutes or more.

Garnish with fresh basil and serve immediately.

If making it in advance, cool the finished ratatouille to room temperature, transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge until ready to eat. Garnish the ratatouille with fresh basil just before you serve it.