So earlier this week was my first attempt as an adult to make ratatouille. My mom made this often when I was a kid, and I’m sad to say I didn’t like it much. And my kids had a few comments (although the both enjoyed it). Ratatouille is, traditionally, a vegetarian stew made up of tomatoes, onions, zucchini and eggplant (courgette and aubergine for those tuning in from outside North America). Some people claim that celery and red bell pepper are also crucial, but I didn’t have any celery, and I can’t eat bell peppers (plus, my mom never made it that way).
The only thing that bothered my kids was that it wasn’t enough to feel satisfied. It needed meat, they said. So next time, I will toss some chicken in there. I can sometimes get them to eat vegetarian, but ratatouille really doesn’t contain any protein at all, and is therefore not very filling. I hauled out my enamel cast iron pot and set things going. I very quickly determined that I’m going to need a larger enamel cast iron pot Mine’s a Kitchenaid, but I would strongly recommend buying Le Creuset if you can afford it. Those things last FOREVER.
In any case, there’s no fat in this recipe (NONE), there are very few ingredients, and other than stirring it once in a while, it’s the easiest thing in the world to make. Once the veg were chopped up, there was practically nothing left to do!
Once I had all the veggies simmering nicely on the stove, I peeled and cored about 8 lbs of apples to make a batch of apple butter. I used Gala apples, which was a mistake. They do not peel easily like MacIntosh, Spartan or Empire do, they have a somewhat mealy texture which isn’t ideal, and they’re SWEET. Way too sweet. I didn’t even have to add sugar. I literally put a pile of apples into the crockpot, tossed about 1/2 cup water into it and set it going on high. Cooked it for about 10 hours, then mushed everything up and added a bit of cinnamon. Continued cooking it for another 4 hours or so and then set the immersion blender to it. Boiled my jars, and voila! I had apple butter.
But on to the ratatouille recipe!!! It is very loosely based on the Company’s Coming Slow Cooker book’s recipe by Jean Paré.
1 eggplant, diced about 1″
3 zucchini, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/4″ thick
2 onions (i used red), coarsely chopped
4 tomatoes (or 1 19-oz can of diced tomatoes), diced
1/4 cup tomato ketchup (yeah, I know. I had to buy some just to make this)
2 tsp sugar (I used brown sugar)
1/4 tsp salt (I put a dash of soy sauce in it instead)
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp basil
I suppose if you really like garlic, you could add some in, but I don’t eat it, so I didn’t. Place tomatoes, onions, zucchini and eggplant in a dutch oven (or enamel cast iron pot). Stir to combine and heat on medium (5) heat. Continue stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes or until a slight boil is achieved. Lower heat to medium-low (3) and cover, allowing to simmer for at least 1 hour. Once all the vegetables have softened and combined, add remaining ingredients, stir well. Return to simmer for 30 minutes more. If you’re adding chicken, I would recommend either boneless thighs or chopped boneless breasts. And I would add the chicken to the pot just when you’re lowering the heat to let it simmer. The chicken will easily cook through during the allotted time and will pick up the flavors of the stew.
I chose to serve it over basmati rice, but you could easily just eat it plain or over noodles as well. I balked a little at the ketchup in the recipe, but it brings out the flavor so much more than I had anticipated! I don’t tend to use white sugar except for jam and sometimes for baking, so I preferred to use brown sugar, which I find has a mellower flavor. I also fail at keeping salt in the house. I never use it, other than a pinch for baking, so I tend to live off packets that come with takeout food… I should probably get myself a small disposable salt shaker like you’d use for camping. It’d probably last me a year or two.
Anyway, this stew will easily serve 8-10 people. We filled a quart jar of it for my parents, since my dad *loves* ratatouille. It’s one of those fall or winter afternoon things where you can smell it cooking and anticipate how amazing it’s going to taste later on. It’s also very good reheated, as many of these long-simmering stews are.
And for the record, those thinly sliced, artfully arranged dishes you see if you do an image search in Google? Let’s just say that Disney has a lot to answer for. That is NOT ratatouille.