The south of France is known for a number of famous meat dishes (Cassoulet anyone?) but it is also a land full of wonderful vegetables found in the local open-air markets which you can make on a French culinary vacation. And many of these vegetables get combined in one of the most famous of southern French dishes, the vegetables stew known as “ratatouille.” This hearty dish is made even more substantial by adding a poached egg, but if you want a completely vegetarian version, simply omit it!
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
Cook method: Saute, Simmer
- 2 large eggplants
- 5 or 6 zucchini squash
- 1/2 c olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
- 4 onions
- 2 red peppers
- 2 green peppers
- 2 yellow or orange peppers
- 6 garlic cloves
- 6 tomatoes
- 1 T parsley
- 1 T basil
- 1 t thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper
- 6 small eggs (or quail eggs if you can find them)
- white vinegar
- Fresh basil and black olives for garnish
- French bread for serving
1. Prepare the vegetables. Cut the eggplant and zucchini in 1-inch cubes. Seed and de-rib the red and green peppers and cut into think slices. Peel, seed and coarsely chop the tomatoes. Coarsely chop the onions and mince the garlic and herbs.
2. For the yellow or orange peppers, char them on all sides under the broiler or over an open flame, then put in a paper bag or cover with a bowl for 15 minutes to steam the skins off. Peel the skin off and de-seed, then cut into strips. Drizzle with olive oil and set aside.
3. Mix the eggplant and zucchini cubes with salt and place in a colander to drain for half an hour. Rinse and pat dry.
4. Heat a couple generous tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet or Dutch oven and sautee the eggplant and zucchini until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl.
5. Heat a bit more olive oil in the same skillet and sauté the onions for 3-4 minutes, then add the red and green peppers, stirring to ensure they cook evenly. Add more oil if needed and cook until they start to brown.
6. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
7. Return the eggplant and zucchini to the pan along with the tomatoes and herbs. Add salt and black pepper to taste, and add any remaining olive oil. Simmer uncovered for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. If there is not enough liquid, add a bit of water (but not too much). Most of the liquid should be gone and the vegetables a thick stew.
8. Let the ratatouille sit for 30 minutes or more before serving.
9. Prepare a pot for poaching: use a pan or pot with a wide mouth. Bring water to a boil and add a few drops of vinegar. Crack the eggs one at a time and slide them into the water one at a time. Cook gently for 4 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon. (You can keep them in a bowl of warm water while you prepare the plates.
10. Slice some crusty French bread, brush with olive oil and toast it.
Place the ratatouille either hot, room temperature, or even cold on individual plates. Make a small indentation for the poached egg. Place the roasted yellow or orange pepper strips around the side, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with fresh basil and chopped black olives (optional). Serve with the French bread and a glass (or bottle!) of French wine (learn more about Languedoc wines here).
By Peg Kern
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