Ratatouille can be a wonderful mid-late summer fridge-clearing extravaganza--the traditional base of tomatoes, onions, zucchini, eggplant and peppers easily expands to include just about any other veggie you can think of. But recently, I was served a ratatuoille that went for less and did it superbly. Company (a fantastic group of French gourmands with whom we had such fun eating at the Marché des Producteurs that they invited us to lunch the next day) and location (under the arbor of an old French farmhouse overlooking fields of sunflowers) combined with skill to make Agnès's Eggplant Ratatioulle unrepeatable (she also served it surrounded by home-pickled green peppers):
But here's a recipe for a close second. In addition to the selection of ingredients, the key is to first cook the eggplant separately from the onions and tomatoes, and then to cook it all together.
Agnès's Eggplant Ratatioulle
Serves 4-6 (as a side or, spooned over brown rice, as light main dish)
3 medium onions
6 medium tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
4 T olive oil
2 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 tsp. pepper
Slice the onions and sauté in a deep pan or saucepan 1T olive oil until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Slice the garlic and add to the onions. Cook 1 minute longer. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add, along with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper, to the onions and garlic. Simmer on low for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the eggplant (skin on) into 1-2" squares. Bring the remaining 3 T olive oil just to sizzling in a new pan. Toss in egplant; toss to coat, then reduce heat to medium-low. Sauté with remaining 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp salt. until eggplant is very soft, about 15 minutes.
Pour eggplant into onion-tomato mixture and simmer, covered, over low heat for 20-40 minutes (you can see from the picture that Agnès's cooked much longer than mine - the trick is to cook it a nice long time without loosing liquid-if you have a pressure cooker, you're really set - go for 6 minutes at medium pressure, with slow release). You can serve this right away, or for even better flavor set it aside for anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours (in fridge if it's going to be more than 3 hours), then reheat gently just before serving or serve at room temperature.