When my cooking partner and I were assigned ratatouille, we looked over the recipe in our books, and I saw that it was similar to the way my mom made it. My partner, however, immediately looked at the recipe and said "we're going to make it like in the movie." That's right, like in the awesome animated movie about a rat who cooks. That one. I was totally on board.
So we followed the recipe for the first bit, created a saucy base of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. Then we poured it into some oven safe dishes, and topped it with slices of zucchini and eggplant. These were brushed with olive oil, covered, and baked, then uncovered and baked some more. It looked and smelled amazing, and it totally got a thumbs-up from the chef for taste. I had finally found a ratatouille to love.
I recreated it a few months later in my own kitchen. I was inspired by all the amazing produce stands in Reading Terminal Market, which are now filled to the brim with zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes (not to mention corn, peaches, and berries!). Once again, I found that this version of ratatouille is not only gorgeous, but also incredibly tasty. I think I'll be making it this way from now on.
Adapted from On Cooking, serves 6-8
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for brushing/spraying
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 large tomatoes, finely diced
10 basil leaves, minced, plus more for garnish
Leaves from 6 sprigs of thyme, plus more for garnish
1 Japanese eggplant, or a small regular eggplant, thinly sliced
1 green zucchini, thinly sliced
1 yellow zucchini, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350F
1. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add in the onions. Saute for a few minutes until they are soft, then add in the garlic. Saute for another 30 seconds to a minute.
2. Add the bell peppers and the tomatoes to the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook until the pepper have softened and some of the liquid from the tomatoes evaporates. This should only take 5-10 minutes. During this time, slice the zucchini and eggplant. A mandolin would work great here, but if you don't have one, just try to make the slices as uniform as possible.
3. Add the basil and thyme to the pan, and adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, and pour the mixture into an oval or round, oven safe baking dish. I used a 1 3/4 oval baking dish like this one. Evenly spread the mixture around the dish.
4. Layer slices of the two zucchinis and eggplant around the dish in your favorite pattern, as tightly or as loosely as you'd like. Another great variation here would be to add in slices of tomatoes as well. Once you're done, brush a little olive oil over the tops. If you have a spray bottle of oil, lightly spray the vegetables here. Add additional pieces of basil, thyme leaves, and a sprinkle of salt.
5. Cover the dish at bake for 30 minutes. Then uncover the dish and return it to the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the zucchini and eggplant are shriveled, cooked through, and starting to brown, and the tomato mixture is bubbling up from underneath. Serve warm or room temperature.