This is my variation on ratatouille, the classic Nicoise vegetable stew, served at room temperature, thick with chunky eggplant, onions, tomatoes and garlic and fresh herbs from the garden. Some French grandmothers will say that each vegetable has to be cooked separately, then brought together in a big pot at the end for a slow simmer, to meld the flavors. I work around that by grilling the eggplant while the other vegetable flavors come together on the stove.
This is a killer vegetable dish to serve at breakfast with scrambled eggs or as an appetizing topping for grilled bread. If ripe tomatoes are in season, by all means add one or two, seeded and roughly chopped. If not, I use a little tomato paste and organic tomato puree instead.
To make this into an Italian caponata instead of a ratatouille, I stir in a little vinegar at the end – red wine vinegar or balsamic are both fine. This tastes like the classic Sicilian sweet and sour “eggplant appetizer” that you can find in a jar all over Italy, very old school and very cool. Big, deep, vegetable-y, earthy flavor, delicious with just about anything grilled. And it’s all vegetables.
½-1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large or 2 medium Italian eggplant, top and bottom removed, peeled and cut into 1/2-3/4 inch slices (like slippers)
1 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced
1 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
4 garlic gloves, finely chopped
2 Tsp each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme, from 2-3 sprigs, or 2 Tsp dried Italian herbs
½ cup white wine
2 Tsp tomato paste
1 15-oz.can tomato puree, preferably organic
1 tsp Pimenton della Vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
1. Fire up a gas grill to medium or preheat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat.
In a big bowl, season the eggplant slices with s & p, drizzle with ¼ cup olive oil (or more), sprinkle with chopped thyme or half the dried herbs and toss to coat.
2. In a big, deep Le Creuset iron pot, heat ¼ cup olive oil and the butter. As soon as the foam subsides, add the onions and a big pinch s & p, the chopped rosemary or the remaining half dried herbs. Partially cover and “sweat” the onions and herbs over medium heat till soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in chopped garlic and cook down 2 minutes till the garlic is soft and fragrant. Stir in diced peppers and cook over medium heat, partially covered, 3-4 minutes more.
3. While the vegetables cook on the stove, grill the eggplant slices over medium-high heat or in a hot grill pan till well marked on both sides (use a burger press or heavy pan as a weight). When eggplant is soft and cooked through, cool to room temp on a plate. Dice eggplant into ½ inch chunks and add to the pot with the vegetables. Increase heat to high.
4. Stir in tomato paste and cook about 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan. Add tomato puree and the pimenton. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes on top of the stove or in a slow over (250 degrees) partially covered.
Serve hot or at room temperature as a vegetable side dish with grilled chicken, rack of lamb, beef steak or pork tenderloin, as a vegetarian main course, an omelet filling, or as a breakfast side dish. Also delicious as a post-workout snack.