I would love to tell you that I fell in love with ratatouille while visiting France, where it was lovingly made by a wonderfully kind Frenchwoman I met at the market, who took me back to her rustic farmhouse kitchen where she cooked it for us in an antique Le Cruset pot.
But, in actuality, I fell in love with ratatouille in the frozen foods aisle of Trader Joe’s when we lived in California.
There it was, glistening with frost amid the frozen edamame and tofu burritos. I’d never had ratatouille before, but it had a whole host of delicious veggies in it, so I decided to give it a try. Before long, that little bag of frozen goodness became a regular at our dinner table. I served it over couscous for a dinner that was ready in less than 10 minutes.
But then we moved to Colorado, land of no Trader Joe’s. (Although, that’s changing soon!) And, as you probably already know, bags of frozen ratatouille aren’t a common sight in unenlightened, mainstream grocery stores.
I realized I would have to figure out how to make it myself. Lucky for me, it’s actually very simple. Chop the veggies and then let the tender application of heat and time do it’s work. The end! It’s that simple. Granted, it takes a little longer than heating up the frozen kind, but the flavor is absolutely worth it.
Ratatouille is also a great vehicle for trying eggplant, if you’re not familiar with the beautiful royal purple veg. Eggplant doesn’t have a very strong flavor on its own, and absorbs a lot of the flavors with which it is cooked, so eating it mixed with lots of tomatoes, garlic, and herbs means you (and your family) are almost certain to love it.
Eggplants are also really simple to prepare. Wash it, and then lop off the little cap of leaves. No need to peel or try to remove any seeds. Just slice or dice it however you like for your recipe (ratatouille works best with a small dice). If you’ll be putting it in a casserole, or a dish like eggplant parmesan, it’s a good idea to put the cut eggplant in a colander and sprinkle it with salt, then let it stand for half an hour or so, which will release some of the water. The French call that dégorger les légumes. You can do that with both the eggplant and the zucchini for this recipe, though it’s not totally necessary.
Ratatouille is traditionally served as an accompaniment to simple roasted meats, like chicken or fish, but I often make it the main course in a vegetarian supper. I like to serve it over quinoa—for the added protein—or with couscous, or polenta. If your family loves pasta, it’s also great over noodles and might be a friendly way to introduce all these veggies!
Want some other eggplant recipes to try? I love to order garlic eggplant at Chinese restaurants and make it at home—Chinese eggplant are long and skinny, but I’ve made this recipe with regular eggplant and it turns out fine.
Lacy Boggs is an award-winning food writer and a full-time mom blogging at LaughingLemonPie.com where she provides resources for living like a foodie, even with a family, a budget, and a busy life. She lives between Denver and Boulder in Colorado with her husband and daughter.
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