Ratatouille

I think most people (at least, in America) who know that ratatouille is a dish only know it because of the movie.  You know, the one with the rat.

Well, ratatouille should be a staple of any vegetarian’s repertoire, because

  • it’s easy
  • it’s filling (so all those “but you need MEAT with your dinner!” people can suck it)
  • if — God forbid — you actually do like mushrooms, then I GUESS you can add them.  I’ll give you a weird look for sure though.

Just a heads up: this ratatouille will look nothing like the one in the movie.  Who’s got the time?

Here’s what you’ll need for a ratatouille that serves 4-5 people (or 1 very selfish person for a couple days):

  • Half a medium-large onion (Vidalia or yellow)
  • One large eggplant, or two medium eggplants
  • Two large zucchinis, or three medium zucchinis
  • Several cloves of garlic (about 10)
  • Three or four tomatoes (beefsteak or plum, or heirloom if you’re feeling fancy)
  • One or two bell peppers, if you’re so inclined (I usually skip them)
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs and spices (including, but not limited to: salt, pepper, thyme, marjoram, sage, Herbes de Provence, coriander, and cayenne)
  • If you want to have some nice garlic bread with your ratatouille (and I assure you, you do), you’ll also want to have a loaf of bread (I prefer ciabatta; I just buy my bread already baked, although if you also have the time to bake a loaf of bread, bless your heart) and parmesan cheese

It’s worth noting that it doesn’t really matter what vegetables you use.  Eggplant and zucchini are pretty standard, but you can use pretty much any vegetable that you would conceivably roast.  But don’t use mushrooms, ’cause… come on.

  1. Cut up your eggplant.  You’ll want big chunks, the size of your finger or bigger.  Throw those chunks of eggplant in a colander and salt them.  Let those sit somewhere else while you proceed with the next steps.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375-400 degrees.  Get out the pan(s) of your choosing — I use cast-iron skillets, but a baking dish will do.  Just don’t use a cookie sheet.  Not that you would…?
  3. Cut up the rest of your veggies into big chunks, throwing them in the pan as you chop them up.  You may need two pans to hold it all.  It’s worth noting — unlike roasting vegetables outright, you don’t need to leave space between the veggies, and in fact you shouldn’t.  It just might take up two pans anyway.
  4. Throw in the cloves of garlic whole or, at the smallest, cut in half.
  5. Where’d you put the eggplant?  Well, bring it back!  Okay, you’ll need to squeeze out the eggplant before you throw it in the pan with the rest of the veggies.  I like to take paper towels and squeeze a handful of eggplant chunks at a time.  Maybe you feel like that’s a morally questionable use of paper towels.  I don’t care.  Squeeze out your eggplant however you need to, then throw them in the pan.
  6. Douse the vegetables in olive oil.  You don’t want so much olive oil that it puddles up at the bottom of the pan, but you definitely don’t want to skimp.
  7. Season the shit out of your vegetables.  Be generous with every herb and spice you throw in there, with the possible exception of cayenne (a little goes a long way, of course).  I know using Herbes de Provence as well as marjoram and thyme is perhaps redundant, but I don’t care.  And if there’s a vegetable in sight without a blanket of herbs on it, you probably should use more.
  8. Now mix them up!  Toss and turn those veggies until the oil and herbs are more or less evenly distributed.
  9. Stick the pans in the oven.  Don’t touch them, don’t even think about them, for a half hour.
  10. Has a half hour gone by?  All right, take the pans out of the oven and give the veggies a stir, make sure nothing’s sticking where it shouldn’t.  Now stick them back in the oven.
  11. If everything is cooperating, it should take another half hour or so for your ratatouille to be done.  To determine whether it’s done, take a fork or knife and try piercing a few eggplant chunks.  If your utensil is met with little or no resistance, then you’re good to go.  If it’s still giving some resistance, give it a few more minutes.  Why?  Because eggplant is best when it’s been cooked to mush.  If you disagree, then enjoy your weirdly chewy eggplant and go to hell.
  12. When the ratatouille is done, take it out of the oven.  Eat it while it’s hot!

But wait, we were promised garlic bread!

DAMN STRAIGHT YOU WERE.

Take as much bread as you want and slice it how you please.  Pull those piping hot garlic cloves out of the ratatouille — they should turn to mush with a little pressure, and if they don’t then you probably didn’t cook your eggplant all the way through either, you scoundrel — and smear them on that bread.  Is it smeared all over?  Cool.  Now drizzle some olive oil on that bread.  You don’t need a lot, just a smattering.

Now grate some goddamn Parmesan cheese on your bread.  You missed a spot.  No one wants just a little cheese in the middle of their bread, Scrooge.  Make sure it’s everywhere, even the corners.  Come on.

Ok, stick the slices of bread in the oven (you didn’t turn it off already, did you?) and let them toast up for a few minutes, until they start turning brown.  Alternatively, you can use a toaster oven (I just don’t have one).

Once your bread is ready, then you’re ready to eat!

LEFTOVER TIPS

If you have leftovers, reheating them on the stove or in the oven is far preferable to microwaving them, but do what you have to.  You may even have some garlic cloves left over with which to make some more garlic bread.  If so, I salute you.

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