We’ve hit that stretch of summer where gardens are bursting with more produce than folks know what to do with. As I type this, unlocked cars and vacant doorsteps are falling victim to bags of forearm-sized summer squash and my phone is blowing up with texts from people desperate to know what to do with the eggplant their well-meaning gardening friends just saddled them with. It’s a good problem to have, and one with many tasty answers, starting with ratatouille, a stewed summer vegetable dish hailing from Provence that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a great way to use up a glut of summer produce, and because it tastes even better on day two, you can make it ahead of time if you’re expecting company.
I like to serve this alongside roasted or grilled meats or fish, and it’s even better topped with a fried or poached egg. You can also cut the vegetables smaller and use it to fill a crepe, or serve it with rice or other grains.
Notes: As is the case with anything so simple, you really want to use good-quality ingredients here. Flavors will be amplified here, so make sure your squash doesn’t taste bitter or soapy before making this. The olive oil isn’t just a lubricating ingredient here- it’s also for flavor, so make sure your olive oil tastes good. If you aren’t an olive oil connoisseur and just need a decent-tasting olive oil for this kind of thing, California Olive Ranch’s olive oil is a good place to start.
Salting and draining the eggplant may sound finicky, but it is important to the dish’s final flavor and texture. Don’t skip it. It isn’t difficult, and teh eggplant can drain while you are prepping and cooking the other ingredients.
Roughly 1 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2″- 3/4″ dice
Roughly 1 pound yellow squash and/or zucchini, cut into 1/2″-3/4″ dice
Roughly 1 pound red or orange bell peppers, seeded, white membranes removed, and cut into 1/2″-3/4″ dice
Roughly 1 pound sweet or yellow onion, cut into 1/2″-3/4″ dice
1/2-1 pound tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2″-3/4″ dice
6 Tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more as needed (use an olive oil that isn’t bitter)
Hearty pinch of red pepper flakes or other chile flakes
7 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
6 sprigs of thyme
Handful of basil, chopped (optional)
1. Toss the eggplant with 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and set in a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. Let drain for half an hour.
2. Place a couple layers of paper towel (or just use a kitchen towel) on the counter and spread the eggplant over the towel, then use additional towels to pat the eggplant dry.
3. In a large dutch oven or other heavy pot, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the eggplant and cook until deep golden brown, then remove the eggplant to a plate. If the eggplant sucks up all of the oil and starts to stick to the pot during cooking, add another tablespoon of oil.
4. Add another tablespoon of oil and the onions, chile flakes, and a pinch of salt to the pot and cook until the onions start to soften. Add the smashed garlic cloves and continue to cook until the onions are lightly golden.
5. Add the red peppers to the pot and cook for five minutes more, then add the squash and continue cooking for another five minutes. Add the tomato and thyme sprigs and cook for another eight minutes before adding the eggplant back to the pot. Cook the vegetables for another fifteen to twenty minutes, letting all of the vegetables soften and slightly slump into one another.
6. Remove the ratatouille from the heat and finish by sprinkling with basil, if using, and drizzling with the remaining olive oil. Ratatouille can be served warm or at room temperature, and is even better on day two.