Ratatouille -- just the French name may sound intimidating to novice cooks, but, though it's difficult to spell, this Provencal peasant dish is surprisingly easy to make. The name comes from the term "touiller" which means to toss food and, as many people know, it became more widely known in the United States after the success of a Pixar movie of the same name about a cartoon rat with culinary aspirations.
This particular dish is not quite what the rodent chef Remy prepared in the animated flick of the same name. This ratatouille is made on the stovetop, not the oven, and though this one-pot dish may not be as artful as the oven-baked and intricately arranged variety, it holds a much larger allure, particularly for overscheduled students -- it's truly simple and very inexpensive.
Ratatouille was the first dish I ever cooked without having ever eaten the food before, so it was a welcome surprise when my first iteration wasn't at all a disaster. Since then, I've tweaked several recipes to make my own version of the vegetable medley.
1 large white onion, diced
2 large red peppers, diced
\0xBD cup olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, diced
2 cans stewed tomatoes
1 large eggplant, peeled & cut into \0xBD inch cubes
\0xBE cup dry red wine
2 zucchinis, thinly sliced (not peeled)
2 yellow squash, thinly sliced (not peeled)
3 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
Salt & pepper to taste
Dice onion and red peppers and saute in large pot with a \0xBC cup of olive oil until they start to brown. Add diced garlic, stewed tomatoes and stir. Let the mixture cook as you prepare the eggplant. Don't forget to peel it! The skin of the eggplant is very tough and will not soften well in this dish. Stir in the eggplant and add the remaining \0xBC cup of olive oil.
After the eggplant begins to brown, pour in the red wine. It's best if you use something dry, like merlot or cabernet sauvignon. I typically use the latter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir and let it come to a boil.
Reduce the heat back to medium, stir and add the sliced zucchini and yellow squash. Pluck the leaves off of two sprigs of rosemary and one sprig of thyme and stir. Let the remaining one sprig of thyme and one sprig of rosemary rest on the top of the vegetables, and let the let the ratatouille cook, covered, on the stovetop for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Once prepared, the dish can be enjoyed several ways (which, in my house, can sometimes include shoveling a spoon right into the pot). My favorites? Spoon it over some rigatoni pasta and top it with a drizzle of olive oil and some shredded parmesan cheese or just serve it next to a piece of warm, crusty bread.
Keep it all to yourself and use it to make gourmet pre-prepared lunches and dinners for the week or impress all your closest friends by inviting them to your house for home-cooked French cuisine.