When you Google images of the dish Ratatouille, what do you see?
In addition to the loveable cartoon mouse Remy, who starred in the Disney movie Ratatouille, you’ll find artfully arranged spirals of zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes tenderly set in an ivory crockpot with cutting boards in the background.
Let’s get real, folks. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
That’s why I’m publishing my version of a ratatouille recipe that focuses on the core ingredients, minimal preparation, and elegant ideas for serving. The recipe is perfect for you, my dear friend Lindsay bear, as a first foray into establishing your home cooking routine. I hope you like it!
What is ratatouille?
Ratatouille is a French vegetable stew that combines zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes with salt and pepper.
You can be an overachiever and add in bell peppers as well as herbs like thyme and bay leaf. Then you cook the vegetables over low heat for an hour or two. At its core, ratatouille is a rustic and simple dish.
Not only is it comfort food, but also it’s really hard to screw up.
Why is it worth making?
My favorite part about ratatouille is that you can make a hefty quantity of vegetables in one go. In any other recipe that calls for stewing pounds of vegetables, I would picture a boring and stinky concoction of boiled cabbage and carrots.
Not so with this chic and Provençal recipe because of the excellent marketing from the French.
However, it’s not just the name and reputation. Ratatouille is a fascinating dish because of how well the vegetable flavors complement each other. It’s as if the veggies intended to fall into the now-cliché quote from Aristotle, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Even though it takes an hour or two to cook ratatouille, it requires little supervision once you have the veggies stewing.
Why is it a good batch cooking recipe?
A ratatouille recipe feeds six to ten people, which means you can have leftovers for three or four meals if you’re cooking for two people.
The recipe also scales well. That means you can double the zucchini or eggplant and still end up with an awesome dish.
Ratatouille tastes better if you allow the flavors to combine. Another reason for batch cooking it since it’ll taste even better the next day as leftovers.
Plus, ratatouille is a dish you can eat hot or cold. That makes it versatile. You can enjoy it as a complement to different proteins, including fish, cheese, and tofu.
How well does ratatouille freeze?
After freezing and defrosting the ratatouille, Alex’s opinion is that it’s a bit mushier than unfrozen but still tastes just as good.
My opinion is that the ratatouille held up very well to freezing because the vegetables have already been stewed. You don’t need to worry about vegetables losing their crunchy texture or becoming too mushy. That’s the point of ratatouille!
If you plan on freezing, anticipate the eggplant will be a bit mushier whereas the zucchini held up very well to freezing.
Why is my ratatouille recipe different?
While I believe there’s a time and place for cooking vegetables separately and recombining them later, I find it to be a stressful and time-consuming practice for weeknight dinners. If you’d like to explore how to cook the vegetables separately, please check out their recipes.
Who should make this ratatouille recipe?
If you’re in a hurry, you won’t want to make this dish today.
It requires stewing the vegetables for at least one hour, preferably two on low heat. That makes it ideal to cook on the weekend so you can have leftovers for the beginning of the work week.
If you need dinner right now, try something simpler like the following recipes that you can prepare in 30 minutes or less:
- Nhi’s Spring Rolls with peanut butter sauce
- Tofu and Broccoli Salad
- Tofu Noodle Salad with Carrot and Cucumber
But if you have a Saturday morning free or a Sunday afternoon, this is a great recipe to prepare for the week. Or you could cook the ratatouille on a week night and prepare something else to eat. Then you’re ready to take the ratatouille to work the next day.
How can you substitute ingredients in the ratatouille?
In this article, our recipe calls for:
- bell peppers/capsicum (you can skip the bell peppers)
- fresh thyme (but you can substitute or skip the herbs).
I can’t imagine ratatouille without zucchini (or courgette as the French might say). So, definitely, have zucchini. I imagine you could substitute summer squashes of different shapes and colors, like yellow squash. I find yellow squash’s skin to be tougher but the flavor is similar. You might even try some eight ball zucchini but it might take a long time to slice.
I like eggplant whether it is the big round purple kind or the skinny and long Chinese kind. Pick whatever is in your grocery store.
I found some ratatouille recipes without eggplant. So it’s not critical if you don’t have it. But I think you should try to get eggplant in the dish if you can.
I picked the most ripen tomatoes, which turned out to be vine-ripened tomatoes.
Roma or beefsteak tomatoes work just as well.
Heirloom tomatoes from the farmers market make amazingly aromatic ratatouille but they are pricey. Worth it if you decide to splurge on yourself, but not important for having a good result.
You can even use canned tomatoes. I saw a Ratatouille with Penne recipe from Jacques Pépin that calls for canned diced tomatoes in sauce.
I wouldn’t use cherry tomatoes because they would take forever to slice.
I personally don’t like bell peppers, especially not raw or crunchy. But I don’t mind bell peppers stewed. You could skip the bell peppers if you want to keep the recipe as simple as possible.
I added fresh thyme because I was lucky and had some in the fridge. Julia Child’s recipe uses parsley. I hate parsley. So I would never put in parsley, but you could try it.
But since you, Lindsay, hate herbs, you can skip the herbs entirely.
You could also add dried herbs instead of fresh herbs. Try a bay leaf or 1/2 of dried oregano. I would stay away from spices like cinnamon or cloves. Spices are too heavy for this vegetable dish.
Some recipes call for olive oil. But I just used regular canola oil and didn’t feel like it would make a big difference. Especially, since I try not to cook with olive oil.
Garlic & Onion
Use garlic cloves and onions if you can. I used pre-peeled garlic that I had frozen and then defrosted for extra convenience. So, the garlic doesn’t have to be fresh.
However, I haven’t tested the recipe with garlic powder, and I don’t think it would turn out as flavorful. So, I would not substitute the garlic or onion with granulated garlic or onion and garlic powder.
When is ratatouille a good recipe to make?
A lot of these vegetables are summer veggies, like tomatoes and zucchini (summer squash). If you buy the vegetables when they are in season, especially tomatoes, the vegetables will be more flavorful than in the winter.
Plus, seasonal vegetables are usually cheaper because they don’t need to be flown in from the Southern Hemisphere.
That said, many of these vegetables are available all year-round, like eggplant. So it’s OK to make ratatouille any time of the year. But, it’ll be especially tasty during late spring and summer.
Where can you find the ingredients to make ratatouille?
The ingredients should be available in any grocery store and farmers markets that sell fresh produce. The fresh herbs might be harder to find because places like Costco don’t sell fresh herbs. In that case, you can skip fresh herbs or put in dried oregano if you have some in the pantry.
I purchased most of the ingredients at Trader Joe’s. Unfortunately, TJs threw out their zucchini (bad batch, apparently,) so I had to stop by Whole Foods for the squash.
What equipment do you need to make ratatouille?
I used a medium soup pot to give me plenty of room. Once the vegetables start cooking, they shrink down to half their original size (or smaller in the case of tomatoes).
I call my soup pot medium because I have a ginormous soup pot but I realize for most kitchens, my “medium” soup pot would be the biggest soup pot or saucepan you own. So go ahead and pick the largest cooking vessel you own. You can’t go too big but if you pick a soup pot that is too small, you will have trouble turning the ratatouille midway through.
Do you need a casserole dish to make ratatouille?
If you have a beautiful enameled cast-iron Le Creuset dutch oven, by all means, use it. I’m sure David & Mary (my in-laws) would use a casserole dish and may even finish the ratatouille in the oven.
For me, I find casserole dishes very heavy and therefore not good for my lower back to carry around, especially when full of vegetables. I stick with the nothing-special-about-it metal soup pot.
I also don’t bother with the oven because cooking on the stove is faster to me. The oven complicates the recipe so I omitted baking from my recipe.
Now that we’ve addressed the tips to help you be successful, let’s dive into the recipe. (Remember, my tips revolve around my preferences. You have my permission to experiment and test variations on the recipe to follow your tastes, like ditching the herbs ;). I would make sure you cook the recipe at least twice before you try a variation though.)
Simple and Easy Vegan Ratatouille with Eggplant and Zucchini
- 3 tablespoons Oil Any cooking oil is OK
- 1 Eggplant The stout dark purple eggplant or the long, skinny Chinese eggplant both work.
- 2 lb. Zucchini Also known as courgette
- 1 lb. Tomatoes
- 1 Green Pepper Optional
- 1 Onion Sliced
- 7 cloves Garlic
- 3 sprigs Thyme Optional, you could also use oregano or parsley
- Salt To taste
- Pepper To taste
Prepare the vegetables
- Slice all the vegetables into flat discs. You can slice the eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes horizontally.
- This is what the sliced eggplant should look like.
- This is what the sliced zucchini should look like.
- This is what the sliced tomatoes should look like.
- Slice the green bell peppers/capsicum pretending they are a cube. Cut off each side, front, back, left, and right. Then slice each piece of bell peppers so it resembles a long strip. This is what the sliced bell peppers should look like.
Prepare the aromatics
- Thinly slice the onion.
- Coarsely chop the garlic cloves.
- This is what the sliced onion and chopped garlic should look like.
Assemble the ratatouille in the pot
- Pour the oil in a medium-sized soup pot.
- Layer the eggplant in the pot first. Eggplant loves to soak up oil, which is why we put the eggplant in first. It will allow the eggplant to sauté and absorb most of the oil. Lay the eggplant slices flat to cover the bottom of the soup pot. Depending on the size of your eggplant, you should expect to put 5-6 slices.
- Layer the zucchini slices on top of the eggplant.
- Layer the tomato slices on top of the zucchini. Don’t worry about being perfect. Just focus on enjoying the task and the bright beautiful colors of the vegetables.
- Layer the slices of bell peppers on top of the zucchini. Try your best to lay the strips so they create a flat surface on top of the tomatoes. You should now have four layers of vegetables.
- Put half of the sliced onions in an even layer on top of the bell peppers. Distribute half of the chopped garlic on top of the onions. Put 2 sprigs of the thyme on top of the garlic if you’re adding herbs.
- Alternate the remaining vegetables. Layer the eggplant slices first, then the zucchini slices, then the tomatoes slices, then the bell pepper strips until you have used up all the ingredients. If you run out of a certain vegetable, just continue with the order until you finish all remaining vegetables.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper on top. Season it to your tastes. If you’re not sure how much salt and pepper to use, start with 1 teaspoon of salt. You can always add more when you eat the ratatouille.
- Put the remaining onion, garlic, and thyme on top of the vegetables.
- Turn the burner on high. Allow the hot oil to sauté the eggplant for about 5 minutes. You should hear it crackling and see wispy steam rising from the pot.
- Once you see steam rising from the pot, turn the burner down to medium and cover the pot with a lid. Allow the vegetables to sweat and cook for 15 minutes. Set a timer and come back.
- After 15 minutes, lift the lid and stir the ratatouille gently to allow the top layers of vegetables to reach the bottom of the pot to ensure even cooking.
- Place the lid back on the pot and turn the burner down to low.
- Allow the ratatouille to simmer for 60 minutes. Set a timer and go do a fun activity. Come back in an hour to check on your ratatouille.
- Once the hour is up, check the ratatouille. If it looks too watery for your tastes, remove the lid off to let the steam escape. Allow the extra moisture to cook off for an additional 10 minutes to thicken the ratatouille into a stew-like texture. When you’re happy with the texture of the ratatouille, then it is ready to serve.
- Enjoy your ratatouille!
What if I don’t like mushy vegetables?
Our recipe is designed to allow you to spend less time preparing the vegetables and cooking. That’s why the instructions recommend slicing the vegetables and layering them together to braise for an hour.
Once you finish the prep work and the initial sauté, you can set the timer, do another task and come back to check in on the dish an hour later. That’s enough time to do a home yoga workout or watch an episode of your favorite Netflix show.
This technique of “set and forget” results in a “mushier” dish that is still very appetizing. If you’d rather have crisper vegetables that hold their texture, and you don’t mind doing more work, then try the Jacques Pépin and Julia Child recipes that require a lot more prep and you’ll have to stand at the stove cooking for much longer.
How should I serve the ratatouille?
Ratatouille is a terrific side dish but it’s not a complete meal on its own. Here are ideas for how to enjoy ratatouille.
For the omnivores
- With roasted lamb
For the pescatarians
- With lightly grilled fish
- With smoked salmon
For the vegetarians
- With a cheese omelet
- With a slice of crusty bread with a hunk of cheese
For the vegans
- With pasta that has a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
- With a veggie burger patty (like the Gardein beefless patties that you love)
- With pan-fried firm tofu (I’ll try to add a picture soon)