I have wanted to make the infamous French ratatouille since I read the book Lunch in Paris. Elizabeth Bard wrote a great book about her time in Paris and between chapters she shares her recipes, one being a ratatouille recipe. Literally this is my dream book; what could be better than pages filled with her tale of falling in love in Paris divided by pages filled with amazing recipes! But I guess if I am being a little more honest with myself I have wanted to make this dish ever since I watched the Disney movie Ratatouille! I was also super excited to make this because I have never cooked with saffron. Saffron is the dried stigmas from the flower saffron crocus. Saffron has long been the most expensive spice by weight and is native to Southwest Asia. I found joy in asking my typical pilot dad, meaning cheap, to go pick up the saffron. I’ve heard Giada and Ina from the Food Network tell me frequently how expensive this spice is but that is just a must in certain recipes, but when I got the call from my dad asking me how much I thought this .06 ounce jar of saffron cost I was shocked that is was $16.
Ratatouille is a traditional French dish made up of stewed vegetables from Nice. This recipe was seriously great and easy to make! You know how you get a little ahead of yourself when cooking a recipe for the first time and start sweating the onions way too soon because the red peppers haven’t had enough time to sit for the skin to start to peel? Yes I’m speaking from experience but this recipe is so simple because you add an ingredient then let it sauté for 10 minuets which is the perfect amount of time to get the next ingredient ready!
This dish was bursting with all the juices of the vegetables and dripping with flavor. This dish was a perfect side for a summer night. Absolutely no complaints!
Elizabeth says it only gets better as it sits so I was so excited to have it for lunch the next day but being a pilot’s daughter I’m never in one place to long and forgot to take it for lunch on my way to the airport. So my dad got to have it all to himself, I guess that is karma for making him buy something that almost gave him a heart attack because of the price!
Secret ingredients: a good pinch of saffron at the end, and, “if the vegetable lack sunshine,” a cube of sugar. I add the sugar anyway—because who couldn’t use a little extra sunshine?
1/3 cup olive oil (don’t skimp, you can’t add more later)
2 ½ pounds onions (7-8 medium) thinly sliced
1 ½ pounds eggplant (2 small), cut into vertical chunks about ½ inch by 2 inches
1 ½ pounds sweet peppers (3 small; 2 yellow, 1 red), seeded and sliced
1 pound zucchini (4 small), quartered the long way and cut into thirds
2 pounds sun-ripened tomatoes (6 medium), coarsely chopped, with their juice
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
2good pinches saffron (1/4 teaspoon)
1 cube sugar (a scant teaspoon)
Warm the oil over medium heat in your largest frying pan. Add the onions. Sauté, stirring occasionally until they are wilted and just beginning to color (about 25 minuets). Don’t skimp on the time here, as the onions need to sweeten; they provide the base for the whole dish.
Add the eggplant. Stir to coat. Sauté 10 minutes.
Add the peppers. You might need to lower the heat to maintain just a bit of a sizzle. Sauté 10 minuets. The peppers will release some water, which will start the sauce.
Add the zucchini. Sauté 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and fresh thyme. Heat until the tomatoes release some juice. Dissolve the saffron and sugar in the sauce. Cover cook for 10 minutes. Leave to cool.
Ratatouille tastes even better the next day. You can use it as a side dish, pasta sauce, filling for a quiche or an omelet, or over quinoa for a full vegetarian meal. It freezes beautifully, so make a few batches in the summer, before the tomatoes disappear.
Yield: Serves 8
Tip: Buy 2 smaller zucchini (or eggplants), instead of 1 large one. Smaller veggies have less water and a more concentrated flavor.
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