Traditionally Ratatouille is a French Provençal dish, originating in Nice, sometimes referred to as 'ratatouille niçoise'. It's a slow-cooked dish of eggplant (aubergine), tomatoes, peppers and zucchini (courgettes) that is usually served as a room temperature side dish. It dates back to the 18th century when it was a sort of 'coarse stew'. Nowadays it can be considered as a wonderfully healthy and simple way to enjoy the summer’s best produce, and makes the best leftovers. Sometimes I adapt it for my version of Summer Ratatouille Pasta.
And then there is this Oven-Baked Ratatouille, this recipe is one not original to me, but this is my summery version and I love the ease with which it can be prepared. It is a dish of layered vegetables baked in the oven until tender. Basically, like a gratin. There is nothing fancy about it at all. But it can look very pretty when the vegetables are thinly sliced and laid with care. This method of preparation certainly makes the most of such humble humble of ingredients as summer tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant.
The overlapping, melting vegetables look very special and effortful but is easy enough to do as a weekday meal, especially if you already have a thickish homemade tomato sauce on hand.
This dish works great as a main meal or a side and depending on and how large your skillet is, you may not end up using all of the vegetables in this recipe but then again you might – just make sure to keep any leftover veggie bits for that Summer Ratatouille Sauce.
- 2 zucchini (courgette), medium size
- 2 yellow squash (summer squash), medium size
- 1 eggplant (aubergine), medium size
- thickish homemade tomato sauce (enough to cover the base of your baking dish), about 350g OR use a good-quality store-bought Passata di Pomodoro or Tomato Passata (an uncooked tomato purée that has been strained of seeds and skins)
- a few sprigs of lemon thyme, thyme or rosemary or whatever strikes your fancy
- 50g shredded mozzarella NOTE: the cheese is optional, you could also opt to add some Ricotta Salata (a salted and dried cheese, providing a texture similar to feta cheese) to the finished dish
- fresh basil (to serve) - try to change things up here and maybe use purple basil with that slightly spicy flavor as well as your regular basil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- a good fruity olive oil for brushing the vegetable and for serving
- Prepare your veggies: thinly slice all your veggies – this is best done using a mandoline but you can also slice each vegetable with a sharp knife, aim for thin slices.
- Preheat your oven to 180° C (350°F).
- Heat your homemade tomato sauce over medium-high heat. Once warmed, taste one more time for seasoning and then pour sauce into the base of your chosen baking dish (go with a pie or glass baking dish or use a cast iron pan).
- Next, layer the sliced vegetables in a spiral pattern around the dish and on top of the tomato sauce until the entire pan is covered.
- Brush with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Layer a few sprigs of herbs on top of the veggies.
- Cover the dish first with baking parchment, then tightly wrap with foil. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes covered. Check to make sure that the veggies have taken on some color, are soft and the sauce is bubbling around them.
- Remove the foil and the baking parchement, then the sprigs of herbs, then add some shredded mozzarella on top and return to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes until the veggies are nice and soft, slightly charred and the cheese has melted.
- Very carefully remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before eating warm or at room temperature.
- Scatter a few basil leaves on top (optional), add a few drops of a fruity olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper (to taste).
Enjoy summer veggies at their peak. This Oven-Baked Ratatouille is a delicious, easy lunch to enjoy in the summer sunshine, just serve with fresh bread, a crisp salad and an assortment of herb-marinated olives.
July cooking is delicious.