Introduction: Farmers Market Ratatouille

It's ratatouille time! You can tell, because when you go to the farmers market there's tomatoes and eggplant all over the place, and a lot of the stalls will have seconds available for cheap.

This is a great recipe for this time of year, at least where I live in upstate New York.

A quick note on pronunciation: the French pronounce it (approximately) rat-a-twee. Americans seem to have settled on rat-a-too-ee after the eponymous movie. I generally call it rat.

Step 1: Ingredients

So the greatest thing about ratatouille is that you don't need the prettiest and most beautiful ingredients. You want fresh ingredients with good flavors, but they can be bruised and broken and ugly, because you're going to chop them all up and cook them.

This is the great thing about buying what are called heirloom tomatoes in the United States or heritage tomatoes in the UK. And other things in other places. Your grandparents probably called them tomatoes. Such is the effect of big agribusiness. Chances are that you want to go and buy the ugliest tomatoes you can find at the farmers market. Big huge ones that have scars and scrapes and are funky colors. And they're cheap. And you're not just buying excellent tasting tomatoes, but making a political statement about what you value in food, and how it ain't pretty-looking identical-sized mass-produced tomatoes shipped many miles, but something grown locally by your neighbors that really tastes of something. But all artifacts have politics, this included, and I digress.

So. Go buy your tomatoes: here I've got about 4 or 5 pounds. You also want to buy a similar quantity of eggplant (aubergine, if you speak British English) and a similar quantity of onions, red or yellow, it doesn't matter. You probably want a bit more tomatoes than anything else. You'll also want to buy some zucchini (a.k.a. courgette), which I managed to cleverly leave out of the photo. I used one large one, about a pound and a half. You'll also want extra virgin olive oil, cheap red wine, and salt. You will also want some kind of herbs: rosemary is good, basil is also good, parsley will do if you've got nothing else.

In this instructable, I'm using

Tomatoes from West Haven Farm (and a few of my own)
Eggplant and zucchini from Mandelville Farm
Onions from Hendy Hollow (check out their website, done by some of my students!)
Garlic from Red Tail Farm
Rosemary from my garden, grown from a plant from Kingbird Farm

All bought at the Ithaca Farmers Market

...and Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joes, EVOO and sea salt from Wegmans.

Step 2: First, Chop Your Onions Coarsely.

I've included diagrams here to show the easiest way to peel them: Chop one end nearly all the way off, then follow the skin round with the knife and chop off the other end. Then it's easy to remove the skin.

You want to chop into relatively chunky pieces.

Then add a good hefty slosh of olive oil and put on the stove on medium high.

Step 3: Chop and Add Garlic

Here I'm using about seven or eight cloves.

Again, I'm demonstrating how to peel garlic and chop garlic. You don't need some fancy piece of equipment, and you definitely don't need a garlic press. As shown:

Take a clove of garlic, and put the flat of your knife on it. Press down on the flat with your hands until it smooshes. Then lift off the knife and pull your garlic out of the papery covering. Done. Once you've peeled all the garlic then chop, relatively finely, and add to the pan.

Step 4: Eggplant (aubergine)

Again you're going to chop your aubergine and add to the pan. You want a bit chunkier sizes here. Don't worry about salting it or anything, just chuck it in. Depending on your eggplant you may want to slice it horizontally before slicing vertically to get more manageable sizes of eggplant.

Add to pan. Stir.

Step 5: Zucchini

Chop, add. You get it by now, right?

Step 6: Tomatoes, at Long Last.

Time to chop up those tomatoes! Again, sorta chunky.

If you feel like draining the tomatoes by putting them in a sieve or colander and pressing them against the sides, you can, but it's not really necessary. I don't really bother when I'm making rat.

I now include a big stack of tomato porn here. I mean, look at those things. Beautiful. Chop out the stalks, but otherwise you should be fine.

The three stripes of different color tomatoes? Absolutely no reason other than it looks good in the photos. You're going to mix it all in anyway.

Step 7: Flavorings

So this is where it gets sorta optional.

In this one, I add a good splash of red wine (about a cup or two), about two tablespoons of salt, and a handful of rosemary. But it's really up to you. Taste and see what feels right. You may also want to add more olive oil.

Step 8: Simmer! (and Research)

The question is, of course, for how long. The short answer is about 45 minutes.

The long answer is that there are multiple ways of making ratatouille.

You can think of the two poles of the ratatouille axis as salad and stew. On one end, you throw everything in, cook for the minimum to soften up your ingredients and you're done. This is pretty much the approach taken by Jacques Pepin in his Cuisine Economique. On the other end, you stew for hours, possibly roasting your tomatoes and maybe other ingredients in the oven first to build up flavor, and then go with that. In "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", Julia Child has you saute everything and then put it in the oven, although for a relatively short length of time. Escoffier says nothing in either of the editions of "A Guide to Modern Cookery" I own, which I just find strange. "The Best Recipe" says nothing either. Lame. "Cooking Essentials for the New Professional Chef", the CIA's cookbook, just says "stew, covered, until the vegetable are very tender" -- but I note they suggest adding chicken stock and their recipe only includes 6 ounces of fresh tomatoes -- well, concasse, meaning peeled and with the seeds and cores taken out -- for 10 servings of rat. Not really in love with their ingredients there, bein' all professional and all. Nigella says to slow cook for about an hour and a half all in all in "How to Cook", which is a bit more up our alley and probably at the other end of the spectrum from Jacques.

That was almost definitely more than you wanted to know.

Serve hot or cold; on couscous works pretty well. This also freezes well. It's even vegan, so useful to have in the freezer in case one drops by. You know, as they do. Enjoy!