Ratatouille, that classic Provencal combination of eggplant, tomatoes, onions and zucchini, is one of my favorite dishes to use when entertaining.
This dish actually improves in flavor when made one to two days ahead. The entire preparation can be cooked in advance and simply needs to be heated at serving time. Or, if you prefer, it's delicious served at room temperature.
Another benefit of using ratatouille when cooking for company is that the recipe can be doubled or tripled easily when you want to invite a large crowd.
And ratatouille is incredibly versatile. Bursting with robust flavors, it makes an ideal side dish to serve with lamb, chicken or pork, and can even do duty as a main course if you have a vegetarian in your group.
Typically, I make ratatouille in the summer months when eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes are all in their prime, but recently I created a fall version made with canned tomatoes in place of fresh and with dried herbs instead of just-picked ones.
The results were so good that I am looking forward to including my autumn rendition of ratatouille in several menus in the coming weeks.
Oh, one other bonus I forgot to mention -- this fall ratatouille is very inexpensive to prepare.
Spicy Fall Ratatouille
1 pound eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound small zucchini, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
3 medium sweet red peppers, stems, seeds and membranes removed, and peppers cut into 1-inch squares
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 (28-ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Place cubed eggplant and zucchini in large colander and sprinkle generously with salt. Let stand 30 minutes, then rinse well and pat completely dry.
Heat 4 tablespoons oil in large heavy skillet over medium heat until hot. Add eggplant and zucchini and saute, stirring constantly, 10 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside.
In same skillet, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil. When hot, add onions and saute 10 minutes, stirring. Add red peppers and garlic and saute, stirring, 5 minutes more. Return eggplant and zucchini to skillet.
Stir in tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt, thyme and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Taste and season with additional salt, red pepper flakes and thyme, if desired. (If not using immediately, cool to room temperature and refrigerate, covered, in nonreactive dish. Reheat, stirring, in skillet over medium heat until warm.)