By Tim Hazell
Ratatouille is a French Provençal stewed vegetable dish sometimes referred to as ratatouille niçoise. Recipes and cooking times differ widely, but common ingredients include tomato, garlic, onion, courgette (zucchini), aubergine (eggplant), bell pepper, and any combination of leafy green herbs common to the region.
The word ratatouille derives from the French Occitan region of Nice and Provence. The term ratatolha is related to ratouiller and tatouiller, expressive forms of the verb touiller, meaning “to stir up.” The modern (circa 1877) ratatouille—tomatoes as a foundation for sautéed garlic, onion, zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper, marjoram, fennel and basil, or bay leaf and thyme, or a mix of green herbs like “Herbes de Provence”—does not appear in print until around 1930.
Larousse Gastronomique notes that “according to the purists, the different vegetables should be cooked separately, then combined and cooked slowly together until they attain a smooth, creamy consistency, so that each vegetable will taste truly of itself.”
Related preparations exist in the cuisines of many cultures, pisto (Spain), samfaina and tombet (Majorca), ciambotta and pepperonata (Italy), briám and tourloú (Greek), ajapsandali (Georgia) and zaalouk (Morocco).
Pisto (also known as Pisto manchego) is a Spanish version originally from the regions of Murcia, Castilla La Mancha and Extremadura. It is made of tomatoes, onions, eggplant, green and red peppers and olive oil. The dish resembles ratatouille and is often served with bread, a fried egg on top or with pieces of cured ham.
Ciambotta is popular throughout southern Italy. There are many regional variations, but all feature summer vegetables. Italian eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, potato, onion, tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil are common ingredients. Ciambotta may be served alongside grilled meats, such as sausage or swordfish, pasta, polenta, or rice.
This ratatouille variation begins with sautéing zucchini, bell peppers and eggplant before the addition of roughly torn chunks of mozzarella. The results can be served as a main dish with crusty bread, side with pasta or poured over spaghetti and topped off with a runny egg.
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium zucchini, split lengthwise and sliced into 1/2 moons
1 medium eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into julienne strips
Sea or regular salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 ounces ripe tomatoes, chopped
6-8 ounces mozzarella, roughly torn
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup basil leaves, torn (Comer)
Directions: Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the zucchini, eggplant and bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables turn golden, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until softened and vegetables are tender but still al dente, another 2 minutes. Serve topped with torn mozzarella, par