Ratatouille is a classic vegetable dish starring eggplant, zucchini, peppers and tomato that is deeply steeped in the culture of Mediterranean France. When I married a man from the heart of Provence, one of the first lessons I received from my new mother-in-law Muriel was how to make a proper ratatouille. (The other was how to pluck feathers from a newly-butchered turkey, but that's a story for another day.)
Turns out, my American sensibilities had me cooking a ratatouille far too long, making it a gloppy stew of indistinguishable mixed vegetables, a crime I've seen committed more often than not here in the U.S.
Muriel was kind in her rebuke, and showed me her way instead. The most important lesson was to cook each vegetable separately, to honor their individuality. Moreover, the vegetables needed to be cooked in the same pan, in a specific order, so that the flavors would be built just right. (The order, in case you are wondering, is: eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onion, tomatoes, and I use the acronym EZ-POT to remember.)
I was skeptical. But her version is easily the best I have ever eaten, so I follow it without fail, even if the rebellious part of me wonders if I dared to cook the zucchini out of order, would anyone really notice? But, why mess with genius?
Unless it's BBQ season and I want to grill out! After years of following proper EZ-POT protocol, I decided to try an outdoor grilled version of ratatouille. A little summertime char on the veggies could be a good thing. And indeed it was.
The result was a tasty dish that was somewhere in between a grilled vegetable salad (but not quite as acidic) and a traditional ratatouille (but not quite capturing that synergistic vegetable vibe). Still, a worthy summertime side dish in its own right.
Grilled ratatouille is a happy complement to any grilled meat or fish, and it's hearty enough to be the main dish for vegetarians. And leftovers can be spooned on top of roasted potatoes, rice, a green salad, or even spread on toast, sprinkled with cheese and broiled for a quick lunch.
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2 small or 1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch slices (no need to peel)
2 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1 sweet yellow or red pepper, cut into "cheeks" or quarters, seeds, removed
1 medium sweet white onion, peeled, quartered with root intact (to keep it together)
1 pint grape tomatoes
Olive oil in mister
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons high quality olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
6-7 basil leaves, gently torn
salt and pepper
Heat the grill to medium and lightly oil the grates. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper, and spray them lightly with the olive oil mister to coat. (If you don't have a mister, pour a little oil in your hands and lightly toss the vegetables in a bowl using your hands to coat them very lightly with olive oil.)
Cook the vegetables on the grill until tender but not floppy, turning halfway through cooking time — about 12-15 minutes total for the eggplant, onion quarters and sweet pepper, 8-10 minutes for the zucchini and 2 minutes for the tomatoes.
Meanwhile, make the dressing: Whisk together lemon juice and red wine vinegar in a small bowl, and drizzle in the olive oil, whisking to make an emulsion. Add the thyme and salt and pepper to taste, and an additional tablespoon of water if needed to make more sauce.
As the vegetables are removed from the grill, chop the onion (the inside may not be fully cooked and that's OK), and cut the rest of the veggies into nice-sized cubes, and place in a large bowl. The pepper skin will be charred and can be kept or removed.
Pour the dressing over the vegetables while still warm and toss gently. Add the fresh basil leaves to the vegetables, and stir. Adjust salt and pepper for seasoning and serve, hot, room temperature or chilled.
Nutrition information per serving: 126 calories; 49 calories from fat; 5 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 14 mg sodium; 19 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 11 g sugar; 4 g protein.