Sunday, May 10, 2009


There are not many things that I don't enjoy eating. I love trying new and crazy foods, always with the full expectation of enjoying them. Then there are those few items which I desire with all my little heart to love. Things that embody the terms gourmet and refinement. Things that I have tried time and again to like. Tried, and failed. Olives are one of them. As an ingredient in a dish, it's fine, but by itself, blegh. I've tried nearly every olive I've come across, always with the hope that this will be the magic olive that reverses my natural impulse to gag when the squishy, briny mass hits the back of my tongue. I've always pictured myself lounging on a deck with friends dining on olives and cheese as the warm summer day comes to twilight. Sadly, that image will have to defer to another snacky item for the time being.

Here's another one: Eggplant. I always think of that old Looney Tunes cartoon where Elmer Fudd fights an invasion from eggplant-shaped aliens (not that that's at all a negative association). They're purple, they're shiny, and they feel really nice to touch. I want to like them, but the flavor and the texture have always been more than I can handle. It just never felt right on my tongue.
Ratatouille prep

And so it was on a cold, rainy afternoon that I finally decided to conquer my aversion to eggplant. I scoured recipe books for inspiration on what to make with the peculiar vegetable. It had to highlight the flavor and texture of the eggplant with enough going on in the background to soothe my anxious palate. The answer was perfection in its simplicity: ratatouille!
Ratatouille in pot

For those who don't know, ratatouille (pronounced "rat-a-TOO-weeh") is a traditional French vegetable stew composed of onion, eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, and tomato, along with herbs like thyme, fennel, and oregano. As noted in the eponymous movie, "it is a peasant's dish," which means it's simple for the cook and comforting for the eater. It highlighted each vegetable's flavor and texture without any one competing for your attention more than the other. And I'm happy to report that I've been converted to eggplant. I didn't have the red bell pepper on hand this one time, so I subbed mushrooms to add some more substance and texture, and you know what? I liked it! I'm sure die-hard authentic French cuisine fanatics are rolling their eyes and gagging at me right now, but if you're looking for truly authentic ratatouille, simply omit the mushrooms and get yourself a French grandmother.

adapted from Gourmet, June 1991
I like my stew on the chunky side, so I cut the vegetables larger and cook it for less time. If you like yours more mushy and melded, just cut everything a bit smaller and/or cook about 10 minutes longer at the end. Serves 4-6.

1 onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggplants, about 1 1/2 pounds (750 g), cut into 1" cubes
4-5 medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/2" pieces
1 red bell pepper, core and seeds removed, and chopped
1 punnet mushrooms (250 g), cleaned and quartered
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon herbes de provence, or
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
Salt, to taste
Fresh basil leaves

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn heat up to medium-high and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When oil is hot but not smoking, add the eggplant and cook, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add zucchini, bell pepper, and mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and herbs and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt to taste and add fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately with some crusty bread.
Ratatouille bowl


  1. I'm not a fan of the eggplant, either. Maybe if it's fried and smothered in cheese a la Eggplant Parm, but not by itself. Your recipe looks great, though... and healthy!

  2. I'm so with you on olives. I've tried time and time again to like them. After all, everyone else loves them? Shouldn't I?

    Yick! It never works.

    The ratatouille looks awesome!


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