I love this stuff. For me, it is comfort food.
And more than that, it transports me to the south of France, even in the middle of a Wisconsin winter. Of course, it’s better in the summer, when you can buy fresh vegetables at the farm market.
Over time, I have learned that the best ratatouilles are made slowly. The vegetables are cut or sliced or chopped uniformly and sautéed separately before the tomatoes and herbs are added. (When I first began making this dish, I was too inexperienced to realize that. My skills have — thankfully — improved over time.)
I use whatever zucchini or yellow summer squash I can find along with multicolored peppers. Sometimes, I let the eggplant slices soak in a mix of herbes de Provence and sea salt for hours, with no harm (once I forgot about them and let them sit for three days in the refrigerator).
I’ve served ratatouille over spaghetti, on top of pizza and over couscous. But by far, my favorite way to eat ratatouille is with rice. In France, I found Uncle Ben’s quick rice with tomatoes, something I have not found here (yes, I know that’s the lazy way, but when in France there are so many other things to do and see!)
Rice from the Camargue is ideal. Of course, this cannot be purchased locally. No matter. It's the zucchini, pepper and eggplant that count, along with the tomatoes.
I have also baked ratatouille. I place about a ½ cup of rice in a casserole and pour a can or two of stewed or diced tomatoes over the rice, reserving some of the liquid. My lightly sautéed vegetables come next. A layer of onions, the remainder of the tomato juice and Mozzarella, Asiago, Parmesan cheese comes next. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or so, uncovered. You’ll know it’s done when the cheese begins to turn golden brown.
Baked ratatouille is an ideal dish for menus that require last-minute putzing with other things. You do the bulk of the work early on — even earlier in the day — and your oven does the rest.