I came home to a lovely surprise the other day. Sitting on the milk box in the driveway was a bowl overflowing with plump sun-ripened tomatoes, as if left by a garden gnome while I was out on errands. Coincidentally, they appeared only a day after a zucchini fell into my kitchen. Literally, it fell through the screen door, followed by a sweet giggle and two little eyes just barely able to see over the top of the screen. I’m so grateful for these unexpected deliveries, since I didn’t have a garden of my own this summer.
Late in the season as it may be, with a few tomatoes, zucchini, and a couple lingering eggplant from the farmers market, I wondered what to make… Ah yes! Ratatouille. It may be the only time of year that I make this dish, but I savor it, with ingredients fresh out of the ground. By habit, the veggies normally go straight from the chopping board to the pot, letting stewing time work its magic on this rustic French classic. However, I strayed from the norm a bit for the recipe that follows, and chose to roast them this time around. Everything tastes better roasted, so this time I sliced instead of chopped and layered instead of tossed, meanwhile replacing fennel for onions.
I loved what came out of the oven. The veggies were golden and crispy on the edges, but soft and rich in the middle, with garlic and basil hidden between the colorful layers, which fanned out on the platter like dominoes. The fennel offered enough onion flavor to be reminiscent of this classic dish, yet subtly different enough to surprise the palate. Serve this wonderful, simple dish on its own, or with a sprinkle of parmesan. Or try it between a hunk of crusty bread or with a dollop of goat’s cheese and a few pepitas for extra crunch.
makes 4 servings
1 medium green zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
1 red pepper
1 small eggplant
3 Roma or plum tomatoes
1 head of fennel, chopped; reserve 1 tablespoon of feathery ends for garnish
3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
olive oil, for drizzling
salt and pepper to taste
To make the ratatouille:
Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Slice the zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, tomato, and fennel into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices. Cut the red pepper into 1-inch pieces. Season vegetables with salt and pepper.
Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of an oval oven-safe pan. Arrange the sliced vegetables in diagonal rows. Tuck the leaves of basil in between every 4 or 5 slices of vegetables. Sprinkle with fresh thyme and fennel feathers.
Next, finely chop the garlic and sprinkle it on top of the veggies. Drizzle with more olive oil and add a sprinkle of salt. Roast for 15-17 minutes, or until the edges of the vegetables are golden.
Enjoy the ratatouille on its own, or with bread and cheese.