With very little time left at our farmers markets for eggplant, tomatoes, summer squash and peppers, I recently made this one for a dinner party. I wanted to get most of the dishes done a day or two ahead, then just oven steam a salmon fillet on the day of. Ratatouille gets better by the day, until you’ve eaten it all up, so it was the perfect choice. I made it, leisurely, on a Sunday afternoon. It couldn’t have been better – big flavors but nothing aggressive, soothing textures, the ultimate vegetable comfort food.
1 1/2 pounds eggplant
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound (2 medium) onions, thinly sliced
4 to 6 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
3/4 pound mixed sweet red and yellow peppers, cut into slices about 3/4 inch wide by 1-1/2 inches long
1 1/2 pounds mixed yellow and green zucchini, sliced about 1/2 inch thick (if very thick, cut in half lengthwise)
1 pound tomatoes (I prefer pulpy tomatoes like romas), peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (more to taste)
Freshly ground pepper
2 to 4 tablespoons slivered or chopped fresh basil, to taste
1. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. Salt generously and place in a colander in the sink. Let sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 425ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Brush with olive oil.
2. Rinse the eggplant and squeeze dry in a clean dish towel. Transfer to the baking sheet and toss with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil. Spread in an even layer and place in the hot oven. Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the eggplant is soft and some of the edges are lightly browned. Remove from the oven, fold the parchment or foil in half so the eggplant continues to steam, and set aside.
3. Get out a large, heavy flameproof casserole or soup pot and a large, heavy skillet. Heat a tablespoon of the remaining oil over medium heat in the skillet. Add the onions, and cook, stirring often, until just about tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the peppers and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the peppers have softened and smell fragrant, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in half the garlic and cook for another minute, then season with salt and pepper and transfer to the casserole.
4. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over medium-high heat and add the squash, more salt to taste and some freshly ground pepper, and cook, stirring, until the squash begins to look translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining garlic, stir together for a minute, or until fragrant, and transfer to the casserole. Add the eggplant to the casserole along with half the tomatoes. Add plenty of salt (I use a teaspoon), the bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and stir everything together. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring.
5. Turn the heat to very low, cover the casserole, and let the ratatouille simmer for 45 minutes, stirring often to make sure that the vegetables don’t stick to the bottom. Add the remaining tomatoes and simmer for another 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. If possible, allow to cool, and refrigerate for a day before serving.
6. Remove the bay leaf, reheat gently and stir in the basil just before serving.