French cuisine may not be known for being particularly healthy—Julia Child famously said, “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook”—but ratatouille is perhaps that rare exception. But with something this delicious, health is merely an afterthought.
Ratatouille is a Provençal dish of stewed vegetables, typically tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and onions, but varies by recipe. It’s as simple as that. The recipe I used (and adapted), from the fabulous South of France Cookbook by Nina Parker, uses tomatoes (fresh and canned), zucchini, eggplants, butternut squash, and shallots.
A note on the cookbook: anybody who loves France or French food needs to have it handy. It reads like a travelogue, but unlike similar travelogue-y cookbooks, 1) you can, for the most part, find these ingredients here in New York, and 2) the recipes are actually easy-to-follow. That’s because the recipes, like the belle vie we see Nina Parker living in the photos, are casual and not too micro-managerial. A lot of the recipes, this one included, are from or inspired by dishes served in local restaurants or the homes of Parker’s friends.
We can thank the restaurant Le Mazagran in Saint Tropez (1 Rue des Remparts; restaurant-pesquiere.fr) for this perfect summer dish that is totally worth the two hours it takes to make. Full disclosure, I accidentally put in 4 tablespoons of butter, more than double what the recipe asked for and then some. While I can’t deny that my end result was awesome, you’re probably better off with what Parker suggests. Either way, use butter to your preference, but make sure it’s less than half a stick.
The original recipe serves six, but I halved it to three. Still, it will feed at least four people, and even more if you are using it as a side dish. Parker recommends it “Saint Tropez style,” alongside a white fish and fries.
Ratatouille Du Mazagran, Adapted from The South of France Cookbook by Nina Parker
½ tbsp. Olive Oil, plus extra for drizzling (eyeball it)
3 shallots, diced
Lots of fresh basil, perhaps 4 or 5 big stems with leaves
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp. Unsalted butter (see note on butter above)
2 zucchini, sliced ½ inch thick
14 oz. canned plum tomatoes (½ of the large 28 oz. can these typically come in)
1 eggplant, thinly sliced and quartered
½ a butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
About 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ¼ cup water
Paprika, to taste
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Herbs de Provence (optional)
- Take the basil and remove all the leaves, leaving only the stems. Chop stems finely and set aside, keep the leaves for later. Peel the shallots and dice; you can save yourself some time (and tears) by putting this in a food processor. Keep the garlic, sliced zucchini, canned plum tomatoes, and butter at the ready. These will be the ingredients you need for the first section of cooking this dish.
- Heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat, add the shallots, and cook until translucent. Throw in the basil stems. Once those are soft, add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the butter and zucchini, stirring well, then add the canned tomatoes and 1 ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 1 ½ hours. Yes, you read that correctly; but don’t worry, all the other stuff will be done in this time frame. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence, if using.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and keep two sheet pans lined with parchment paper aside. Don’t cheat on this step to avoid doing more dishes later; what’s on these 2 pans have different cooking times. Put the cut eggplant in a large bowl, season it with salt, and leave alone for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, toss squash with paprika, so it’s lightly speckled but not totally covered. Place the squash and eggplant on the same sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, top with salt and pepper, and keep in in the oven for 40 minutes, or until soft and browned around the edges.
- On the other pan, place the halved cherry tomatoes. Top them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme (if using). Put this in the oven for 20-30 minutes, not too long after you put in the first tray.
- Once the sauce has simmered for 1 ½ hours and the eggplant, squash, and cherry tomatoes are done roasting, add the roasted vegetables to the stew. Add basil leaves, whole or torn up, before serving. The dish will stay fresh for a few days, so it’s just as great to make on Sunday and pack for lunch for the next week as it is to serve it at a gathering.
Recipe prepared by Nikkitha Bakshani