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Summer Ratatouille

Mary Anne here. As the Memorial Day weekend drew to a close, Mariel and I were hankering for lighter fare after feasting on Fried Chicken and Macaroni Salad. In the spirit of celebrating summer, we decided to prepare Ratatouille, another staple of my catering business.

Mariel had never made this dish before, and it was pure pleasure for me as she sat at the counter, armed with her notepad, intent on each step, every word, carefully writing my instructions. For a brief moment, I got to be the “ever-wise mom” again, teaching my child the important things in life. As I instructed her on the finer points of preparing Ratatouille, we quickly realized there are some very beneficial tips (which we’ve listed below) that will aid the novice home-chef.

This dish is incredibly versatile, inexpensive, healthfully lo-cal, and delicious hot, cold or at room temperature. Serve it with pasta (we used Orzo) and sprinkle with some Parmesan Reggiano as a hot main dish or a cool summer salad. It stands alone beautifully as an entree and pairs equally well as a side with lamb, beef, pork, or chicken. Try it with Risotto and perhaps some grilled shrimp or thickly sliced Proscuitto. Ratatouille makes a terrific addition to frittatas for an impromptu brunch. If you like it hot, sprinkle with some crushed red pepper flakes.

Whatever your palate, this recipe is certain to become a favorite. Let us know what combinations you try and seasonings you thought added zest! We’d love to hear what you create. At Mariel’s urging, I plan to whip up a goat cheese tart with the leftovers and I’ll be sure to share that recipe.

Summer Ratatouille
Serves 6 to 8 as an entrée

For this recipe you will need 2 jelly roll/cookie sheets, a large skillet, a 2-inch deep 3-quart casserole dish, and a pastry brush.

1¼ lbs. Eggplant, green cap removed and cut into 3/8” slices – $2.46
1¼ lbs. yellow and green zucchini – $2.21
Olive oil – stock
Oregano or mixed Italian seasoning – stock
½ lb. white mushrooms, sliced – $1.99
1¼ lbs. Vidalia onion, chopped – $1.22
3 cloves garlic, minced – stock
2 Red bell peppers, sliced round and then cut into thirds- $2.18
1 Yellow Bell Pepper, sliced as the Red Pepper – (cost included with Red Peppers)
1 large Jalapeno pepper, diced – $0.17
1½ lbs. fresh Plum Tomatoes (or half canned, half fresh), peeled, juiced, and seeded – $1.72
½ cup Fresh Basil Leaves, chopped – $0.99
1 lb Orzo (optional) – $1.50
Grand total, assuming well-stocked pantry: $14.44
Total per serving based on 8 portions: $1.81

Basic tips for preparing the vegetables:

  • Tip #1: To retain the integrity of each vegetable, I cook them separately to begin, rather than sautéeing everything all at once and having a mushy result. At the end, I arrange the vegetables in layers in a covered casserole where they are simmered together.
  • Tip #2: Slice the eggplant and the zucchini into 3/8” rounds. If you look on a measuring tape, 3/8’” is between the ¼” and ½” mark.
  • Tip #3: “Sweat” the eggplant slices and the zucchini slices by sprinkling both sides with salt and placing on paper towels. (I use cookie racks for this.) Allow the vegetables to stand for 20 minutes, and then blot them dry with fresh paper towels.
  • Tip #4: To peel and core the tomatoes: Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, lightly carve an “x” into the base of each tomato. Submerge the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for about 1 or 2 minutes; just until the skins begin to crack. Under cold running water, peel the tomatoes. To core them, simply cut them lengthwise as you would an apple and remove the tough inner fiber and seeds.
  • Tip #5: If you’ve decided to serve your Ratatouille with pasta, as we did, don’t discard the water you used to blanch the tomatoes. Cook the pasta in this tomato-infused water.

The Recipe:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice and sweat the eggplant and zucchini as directed above in step

2. Lightly oil the jellyroll pans and the sauté pan.

3. In the meantime, prep the tomatoes as discussed above in the fourth tip.

4. When the eggplant has finished sweating, transfer the slices to the prepared jellyroll pan. Using a pastry brush, “paint” each slice with a thin film of olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with oregano or herb blend. Cover with tinfoil and bake for 15-20 minutes or until just tender. Be careful not to overcook since you want the eggplant to retain their shape. Reduce oven to 325 degrees when the eggplant is done.

5. While the eggplant is baking, heat the oil in the skillet. Sauté the zucchini slices until light brown on each side. Transfer from pan and set aside, draining on paper towels.

6. In the same skillet, sauté the mushrooms over medium-high heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.

7. In the same skillet, adding a bit of oil if needed, sauté the onions until translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and continue sautéeing an additional 5 minutes.

8. Add all of the peppers and jalapeno to the onion mixture and sauté over medium-high heat for about 5 or 6 minutes until peppers are tender, but still somewhat firm.

9. Reserve about ½ cup of the chopped tomatoes and add the remainder to the onion and pepper mixture. Cook until the tomatoes have rendered their juices and then continue cooking until most of their juices have evaporated. This will take several minutes. Just before finishing, toss in the chopped basil and salt and pepper to taste.

10. Lightly oil the bottom of a 3-quart casserole. Set aside three “pretty” eggplant slices. Layer the vegetables in the dish beginning with the pepper/onion mixture, then the eggplant, then zucchini, and then the mushroom slices. End with the pepper/onion mixture.

11. Garnish the top with the 3 reserved eggplant slices and the reserved tomatoes. Cover the casserole with a lid or tinfoil and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes, basting occasionally with the juices.

12. The Ratatouille is done when most of the juices have evaporated.