Instead of a bouquet garni, which you remove after cooking, flavor your ratatouille with 1 cup of loosely packed, chopped herbs. Include parsley, oregano, thyme, sweet basil, lemon basil, and/or Thai basil. Rosemary might be too strong, but maybe not. Try a few tender leaves and see what they taste like. Strip all the leaves from the stems and roughly chop the larger ones. Stir in the herbs after the ratatouille is finished and then let it sit for at least an hour.
Ratatouille is summer vegetables stewed in olive oil with fresh herbs. Make it on a day when you’re not in a hurry. Like any good stew—or soup—it can’t be rushed. In traditional Provençal kitchens, each ingredient is cooked separately. The theory is that you cook away watery juices and intensify flavors before mixing everything into a succulent whole. I find, though, that the onions and bell pepper cook nicely together. Then you can add the tomatoes and herbs. You do have to cook the zucchini and eggplant separately. They both have a lot of juices you don’t want in your final stew. You can gussy it up with crushed coriander seeds or ground cumin or saffron if you like, but you don’t have to. Hope for leftovers. Like anything made with eggplant, ratatouille is better the second day. SAM
PS Despite what you see on the summer movie marquee, ratatouille is pronounced rata’ twee, NOT rat a too ee.
PS2 For a photo of of the Ratatouille Lakshmi made in South India, click here.
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Bouquet garni: 3 or 4 sprigs each of parsley, thyme, and oregano, tied with cotton thread
1 bay leaf
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 pound eggplant, thinly sliced
1 pound small zucchini, thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large chef’s pan over low heat, sweat the onions and bell pepper in 2 tablespoons oil, covered, until onions are translucent, about 20 minutes. Raise the heat to medium, add the garlic and tomatoes, and sauté for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the bouquet garni and bay leaf, cover, and simmer. Meanwhile, in another pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add the zucchini, cover, and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Uncover and sauté until liquid is reduced, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the onion-tomato mixture. In the same pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and sauté until browned, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Transfer to the onion-tomato mixture. Season with salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Discard the bouquet garni and bay leaf. Serve as a stew or over rice or couscous.
Makes 6 servings.