The eggplant, or aubergine, belongs to the group of fruits and vegetables known as nightshades. Although closely related to the tomato and potato, it’s actually classified as a berry. It’s also a distant cousin of tobacco. Though eggplant becomes tender when cooked, the raw fruit has a bitter taste. Salting and rinsing it before cooking (a technique known as degorging) can help soften it and cut the bitterness.
Julia Child’s Recipe for Ratatouille
- 1 lb eggplant
- 1 lb zucchini
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 Tb olive oil
- 1/2 lb (about 1 1/2 cups) thinly sliced yellow onions
- 2 (about 1 cup) sliced green bell peppers
- 2 to 3 Tb olive oil, if necessary
- 2 cloves mashed garlic
- 1 lb firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and juiced (about 1/ 1/2 cups pulp)
- 3 Tb minced parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices 3/8 inch thick, about 3 inches long, and 1 inch wide. Scrub the zucchini, slice off the two ends, and cut the zucchini into slices about the same size as the eggplant slices. Place the vegetables in a bowl and toss with the salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain. Dry each slice in a towel.
- One layer at a time, sauté the eggplant, and then the zucchini in the hot olive oil for about a minute on each side to brown very lightly. Remove to a side dish.
- In the same skillet, cook the onions and peppers slowly in olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and season to taste.
- Slice the tomato pulp into 3/8 inch strips. Lay them over the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until tomatoes have begun to render their juice. Uncover, baste the tomatoes with the juices, raise heat and boil for several minutes, until juice has almost entirely evaporated.
- Place a third of the tomato mixture in the bottom of a casserole and sprinkle over it 1 tablespoon of parsley. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then half the remaining tomatoes and parsley. Put in the rest of the eggplant and zucchini, and finish with the remaining tomatoes and parsley.
- Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip casserole and baste with the rendered juices. Correct seasoning, if necessary. Raise heat slightly and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes more, basting several times, until juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful or two of flavored olive oil. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the casserole.
- Set aside uncovered. Reheat slowly at serving time, or serve cold.
Ratatouille perfumes the kitchen with the essence of Provence and is certainly one of the great Mediterranean dishes. As it is strongly flavored it is best when it accompanies plain roast or broiled beef or lamb, pot-au-feu (boiled beef), or plain roast, broiled, or sautéed chicken. Equally good hot or cold, it also makes a fine accompaniment to cold meats, or may be served as a cold hors-d’oeuvre.
When I first read through this recipe, I thought it called for an extraordinarily large amount of olive oil but the eggplant soaked it up like a sponge. In fact, my vegetable stew could have used a little more liquid.
According to Julia,
“A really good ratatouille is not one of the quicker dishes to make, as each element is cooked separately ….before it is arranged in the casserole to partake of a brief communal simmer. This recipe is the only one we know of which produces a ratatouille in which each vegetable retains its own shape and character. Happily, a ratatouille may be cooked completely the day before it is to be served, and it seems to gain flavor when reheated.”