I must have had a screw loose when I decided to make ratatouille in the midst of a nationwide heatwave. Especially this ratatouille, which calls for cooking both on top of the stove and then in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.
But there’s a method to my madness. The heat wave has abated, at least for the time being, and cooking isn’t so arduous a process. I’m back to baking my bread in the oven rather than on the grill (which worked, but only minimally).
The last time I made this ratatouille was in April and four of us ate the entire bowl. It’s a very special rendition, from a very special cookbook, “Plenty,” by London restauranteur Yotam Ottolenghi.
Butternut squash is the surprise ingredient, and one that I wouldn’t have even considered. It’s a brilliant addition.
With deference to my dear London friends Brian and Christine, I’d like to add that it comes from a British cook.
And you thought the Brits couldn’t punch their way out of a parchment papillote.
There is one particularly British element to this recipe–the point is to overcook the vegetables. If you want an al dente vegetable dish, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But trust me, this ratatouille will win you over.
adapted from “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi
4 T. olive oil
2 small onions, cut into 1 1/4-in. dice
4 garlic cloves, minced or sliced
1/2 fresh green chile, thinly sliced (I used a jalapeño pepper)
2 small red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1 1/4-in. dice
1/2 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 1/4-in. dice (I cut mine into slightly larger chunks so that they’d keep their shape)
1 cup French green beans, trimmed
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1 1/4-in. dice
1/2 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 1/4-in. dice (I used two long Japanese eggplants and I didn’t peel them)
1 small potato, peeled and cut into 1 1/4-in. dice (I used a Yukon Gold)
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 T. sugar
1 T. tomato paste (I buy mine in a tube and keep it in the fridge)
salt and pepper
1 cup water
cilantro, chopped as a garnish
Pour two T. oil into a large Dutch oven and heat. Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, chile and red peppers and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add the butternut squash and cook another 5 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, lift the vegetables out of the pot and into a medium bowl. Add the remaining 2 T. oil to the pot; add the French green beans, zucchini and eggplant and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Return the contents of the bowl to the pot. Add the potato, tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste and plenty of salt and pepper. (I started with 1 t. salt.) Stir well, pour in the water, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Using a slotted spoon, lift all the vegetables from the pot onto a large roasting pan or baking sheet, making a layer about 1 1/4 inches thick. Pour the liquid from the pot around the vegetables and place into the oven for 30 minutes. At this point the vegetables will be very soft and most of the liquid will have evaporated. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately or allow to cool to room temperature.