When I first learned to cook there were about three recipes that I would make with fairly consistent regularity: whole-wheat beer bread, turkey chili and spinach artichoke dip. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when your skills are limited.
But what if I told you that there are so many things you can make if you have even the most basic kitchen skills? If you can make chili, which basically includes browning meat, chopping vegetables and simmering tomatoes with beans, you can also make trickier-sounding Italian Beef Stew or Eggplant Caponata.
If you think that Ratatouille is a meal named after the Disney character then I’m going to take a wild guess that you have at least three pizza delivery numbers programmed into your cell phone. No judgment.
Ratatouille is actually a stewed vegetable dish with French Provencal origins. Key ingredients are tomatoes, eggplants and zucchini along with herbs and spices. Marjoram, Herbs de Provence are traditional but this version, which I adapted from the now defunct Gourmet, uses basil to add fresh flavor.
So, to recap: you chop, you saute and then you simmer. Garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano and voila. Dinner. Doesn’t that sound easy?
Serves 8 to 10
What you need
2 1/2 lb tomatoes (4 large)
8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
20 fresh basil leaves, torn in half
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 large onions (1 1/2 lb total), quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
3 assorted bell peppers (green, red, and/or yellow; 1 1/2 lb total), cut into
4 medium zucchini (2 lb), quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick pieces
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Garnish: Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings and fresh basil
What you do:
1. Cut an X in bottom of each tomato with a sharp paring knife and blanch together in a 4-quart pot of boiling water 1 minute. Transfer tomatoes with a slotted spoon to a cutting board and, when cool enough to handle, peel off skin, beginning from scored end, with paring knife.
2. Coarsely chop tomatoes and transfer to a 5-quart heavy pot with garlic, parsley, basil, and 1/3 cup oil. Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.
3. While sauce is simmering, toss eggplant with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large colander and let stand in sink 30 minutes. This draws the liquid from the eggplant and helps it retain its texture and shape during cooking.
4. Meanwhile, cook onions in 3 tablespoons oil with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer onions with a slotted spoon to a large bowl, then add 3 tablespoons oil to skillet and cook bell peppers with 1/4 teaspoon salt over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer peppers with slotted spoon to bowl with onions. Add 3 tablespoons oil to skillet and cook zucchini with 1/4 teaspoon salt over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer zucchini with slotted spoon to bowl with other vegetables.
5. While zucchini are cooking, pat eggplant dry with paper towels. Add remaining oil (about 1/4 cup) to skillet and cook eggplant over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 10 to 12 minutes.
6. Add vegetables, remaining teaspoon salt, and black pepper to tomato sauce and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour. Cool, uncovered, and serve warm or at room temperature.