I was first drawn to this recipe for the novelty factor: It called for four vegetables, four burners, and four pots. Though ratatouille is traditionally a stewed mixture of tomatoes, onions, eggplants, zucchinis, and peppers, in The River Cottage Cookbook British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall feels that this happy mixing should not happen until the very last moment. Until then, this dish will commandeer your entire stove top (in fact, the reason this recipe has no peppers in it is because only fancy people have more than four burners).
Why all the hassle? Each vegetable cooks differently, and at different temperatures. Rather than having them stew together, we want to retain the character of each. The eggplant should become creamy while the zucchini is softened then browned over high heat; the tomatoes should still hold their shape and the onions need a slower caramelization. This way, all the vegetables keep their vibrant colors without going mushy.
It's quite thrilling having all the burners going at once, and thankfully the recipe is no more complicated than cooking each vegetable and combining them. A couple slices of toasted bread rubbed with a garlic clove and drizzled with olive oil rounds this out into a full meal.
- Olive oil
- 5 garlic cloves, 4 finely chopped, 1 split
- 3/4 pound eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 3/4 pound small zucchini, sliced 1/2 inch thick
- 3/4 pound cherry tomatoes, left whole
- 3/4 pound onions, red or white, in fairly thick slices
- A few basil leaves, torn
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 4 slices crusty bread, such as a baguette length split lengthwise
Gather 4 medium-sized pans and cover the bottom of each with olive oil. Choose one with higher sides to hold all the ingredients after cooking, and cook the eggplant in this one.
Heat the oil over medium-low heat and add a clove of chopped garlic to each pan, cooking until fragrant, about a minute. Add a vegetable to each pot. Cook the eggplant gently until it softens and turns creamy; the onions until soft and beginning to caramelize; the tomatoes until the skins split but they are still holding their shape; the zucchini over low heat until tender, then higher heat to brown them. Season each vegetable to taste with salt and pepper.
When all the vegetables are ready, combine them in one pot and stir carefully to combine. Season again to taste, and add the basil. Heat for 1-2 minutes.
In the meantime, toast or grill the bread slices and rub the remaining split clove of garlic over their surfaces. Drizzle with them with olive oil and serve with the ratatouille.