It’s summer. The farmers’ markets are open. There are crates of beautiful zucchini, squash and tomatoes – and yes, a beckoning choice of baked goods and other treats.
The other day as I was wandering through one outdoor market here my thoughts drifted back to long ago moments in the Loire Valley, to the alfresco cafés and the waiters and waitresses scurrying around the tables . . . and then it struck me. Ratatouille! What better way to savour all those beautiful vegetables stacked high on the market counters. An almost forgotten urge – a true hunger – came over me. I wondered if I could recreate the pleasure wrapped up in that distant memory. I collected the vegetables I needed and headed home.
If you’re looking for a dish that fully embraces summer vegetables, look no further than ratatouille. On paper, this might look like a tricky endeavour but, on the contrary, ratatouille is very easy to make. Especially if you have a really sharp knife or better still a mandoline (a utensil with an adjustable blade that cuts food thinly and evenly).
(Serves two people as a main course, four as an appetizer.)
1 onion, sliced into thin rings
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium eggplant, sliced
2 zucchini, sliced
2 Medium yellow squash, sliced
4 Roma (plum) tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a large casserole dish, pour 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil. Place the sliced tomatoes and parsley in the dish, spread the minced garlic on top, then add the sliced onion.
Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash, and with a sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash into very thin slices.
Arrange the sliced vegetables over the tomato, onions and garlic in the dish, alternating vegetables and overlapping them so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Cover the dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside.
Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. They should not be brown at the edges, and you should see the tomato sauce bubbling up around them.
Pour a serving on top of polenta, couscous, or your choice of grain. Serve alone, or with a dab of soft goat cheese on top, or with some crusty French bread. Serve as a main course or on a small plate as an appetizer.
I trust you will find, as I again did the other day, that this makes for a great vegetarian dish!