Cheater’s ratatouille

One of the only really good things about the chilly Chicago spring we are experiencing is that I can keep on making this fabulous roasted vegetable dish.

I’m basically a lazy cook. I am happy to put extra effort into baking a cake or making ice cream, but when it comes to plain old dinner, I like things to be a bit more streamlined. In the past, I’ve looked with interest at recipes for ratatouille in which one is instructed to sauté one vegetable at a time, cooking them each to perfection before melding them together — and then quickly turned the page, knowing that there was no way I’d find time for such fussiness. Particularly if it was something that the children wouldn’t eat anyway.
Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

But my ratatouille situation changed when some good friends gifted me with a copy of Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook this past Christmas. I spend several lovely January weeks poring over the gorgeous photos, imagining how I might be able to carve out the time to make homemade gnocchi or a butternut squash galette. And when I stumbled on her recipe for ratatouille, I knew I had found something good.

The beauty of this ratatouille recipe is its simplicity — toss it all in a baking dish and you’re basically done. I’ve made this enough times that I can also attest to its flexibility under the variations of different vegetables, different seasonings, and the inconsistencies of slicing that inevitably follow when I’m rushed. Try as I might, I cannot screw up this dish.
Lunch.
A favorite lunch: ratatouille with a bit of rice and arugula, topped with goat cheese.

Deb Perelman’s original recipe intends for the cook to lay the cooked vegetables on a sandwich, sub-style — which sounds lovely, but I have not tried it this way. My favorite practice is to make a batch on the weekend, then store it in a nice big tupperware in the fridge to warm up as a nice, healthy, non-peanut-butter-sandwich lunch option for Mama. It is especially delicious topped with a lump of fresh goat cheese. A poached or fried egg works well, too. You can serve it alongside rice, noodles, or polenta. It’s an excellent accompaniment to fish or chicken at dinner. And I’m sure it would make a delicious sub sandwich, especially with a few thin slices of prosciutto (which Deb suggests).

You may be wondering: do our children eat this? The answer: no. Not yet. Our children have an aversion to all cooked vegetables and fruit, which is inconvenient both in their resistance to trying this delicious ratatouille as well as their abhorrence of apple pie. But I don’t mind. This recipe is easy enough that I can make it just for the grown-ups. And that means more ratatouille for me! (And Jon, if he is fast enough.)

What follows here are two recipes: a true recipe to follow (modified from Deb Perelman’s excellent recipe), and then a cheater’s blueprint to experiment with. Happy cooking!
Lucy's ratatouille
Lucy spent about 35 minutes arranging these vegetables. She had a blast, and I was happy to have a few extra minutes to bake the Gooey Cinnamon Squares from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

Baked Ratatouille

adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

1 long, thin eggplant
1 long, thin zucchini
1 long, thin yellow squash
1-2 red bell peppers, long and narrow (if possible)
½ small yellow onion
1 cup tomato purée or canned tomato sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons prepared pesto
salt
red pepper flakes

Preheat your oven to 350°. Trim the ends from your squash-type vegetables, then slice them very thin (1/16” thick) using a sharp knife or a mandoline slicer. Remove the core from your peppers, halve, and slice thinly crosswise. Slice your onion thinly as well.

In a small bowl, mix the tomato purée or sauce with the minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of the pesto, a couple pinches of salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Spread the sauce mixture on the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish. Lay the onion slices on top of the sauce, distributing them evenly. Then arrange the slices of vegetables decoratively, in concentric circles, overlapping them quite a bit so that each vegetable round reveals just a bit of its surface. (If you have an artistically-minded seven-year-old in the house, this is an excellent job for her.) You may not need all of your vegetables. Extras are good for snacking (except maybe not the eggplant). Dot with the remaining tablespoon of pesto and sprinkle all over with salt.

Cover dish with foil and bake for 45-60 minutes, until the vegetables are completely tender. At this point, increase the heat to 425°, remove the foil, and bake, uncovered, for another 15 minutes to brown the top a bit. Cool for a few minutes and serve. Or cool completely, store in the fridge, and warm it up for lunch tomorrow.

Eggplant ratatouille.
In this version, I used a lot of eggplant and zucchini. Plus I forgot to reserve pesto for the top, so I just dolloped a bit of extra sauce on it.

Cheater’s Ratatouille

1 eggplant
a couple summer squashes (yellow or green or whatever you like)
a couple bell peppers
½ small yellow onion
1-2 cups canned tomato sauce or pizza sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons prepared pesto (or olive oil, if you’re out of pesto)
salt
red pepper flakes

Preheat your oven to 350°. Slice up your veggies on the thin side, but don’t stress about it. Do slice your onion pretty thinly.

In a small bowl, mix the tomato sauce with the minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of the pesto or olive oil, a couple pinches of salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Spread the sauce mixture on the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish. Lay the onion slices on top of the sauce, distributing them evenly. Arrange the vegetables in the dish, either using the lovely concentric circle technique or just throwing them in willy-nilly. You can probably stuff all those vegetables in there, but if you really have a lot, focus on using up that eggplant (you can eat the other stuff raw). Dot with the remaining tablespoon of pesto (or oil) and sprinkle all over with salt.

Cover dish with foil and bake for an hour or more, until the vegetables are completely tender. At this point, increase the heat to 425°, remove the foil, and bake, uncovered, for another 15 minutes to brown the top a bit. Cool for a few minutes and serve. Or cool completely, store in the fridge, and warm it up for lunch tomorrow.
Close up ratatouille.

Other spice combinations I’ve been considering (but haven’t yet tried):

  • A spicy Mexican version with cumin and a few tablespoons of puréed chipotle peppers in the sauce
  • A Moroccan version with some turmeric, cumin, coriander, paprika, and ginger with a handful of olives and raisins thrown in
  • A Greek version with oregano, some lemon juice, extra garlic and topped with feta cheese

I’ll post back to let you know if any of these variations turn out well!

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