One of the things I love about Summer is the local produce it brings. Right now, you can go to any farmer’s market and find tomatoes, yellow squash, and zucchini. I will always stand by my belief that local and seasonal produce has loads more flavor than anything you’ll find in the grocery store. The restaurant I worked at was consistently graced by farmers bringing in beautiful sun-ripened tomatoes and peaches exploding with juices that would drip down your arm the minute you bit into them. I realized I had never truly tasted good produce until then and what a difference it made! When you have amazing ingredients, you don’t need to overcomplicate a dish. The goal of a good cook or chef is not to cover up natural flavors but to enhance them. And that’s the beauty of Ratatouille in the summer: all of the produce needed to make this dish is readily available and bursting with flavor. Regarding the history of Ratatouille, it is a French recipe that in the past had been considered a peasant's dish because of how inexpensive it is to make. While this dish is optimal for those on a budget, it's certainly not lacking in flavor or rustic beauty making it the perfect dish to serve at a small family dinner or a large gathering with friends.
As I post more recipes, you’ll learn that I really don’t post measurements. The reason for this is that you have to trust yourself when you cook. I used to follow recipes down to the very last detail but when I began working in the restaurant industry and making family meals, recipes no longer served as anything but inspiration. It was just too time consuming to do the math. The chefs who were training me forced me to learn valuable techniques, to cook by taste and by sight. Most importantly, they made sure I knew it was okay if I made a mistake. Why? Because I would learn from it the next time. And that’s what cooking is all about. Trial and error. Art and science. You can taste fear in a dish. But more importantly, you can also taste love and confidence.
On a separate note, I also live by mise en place:“everything in its place”. Naturally, I am a super messy cook. I get so into what I’m doing that I don’t take the time to clean or organize. But while working in a professional kitchen, you had to keep your station organized and had to have your prep work done before you started working on a dish. If you didn’t, you would disrupt the flow of the entire kitchen and very easily destroy your dish or any other prep work you were working on. Cooking is so much more stressful when your prep isn’t done and you’re rushing around a messy kitchen trying to find clean dishes or ingredients. So before you start anything, go ahead and make sure all of your dishes, pots, pans are clean and readily available and everything that needs to be chopped is chopped, etc.
**One last but very important note on the produce in this recipe: make sure to get small/medium zucchini/squash/eggplant. As you can see in the picture above, I made the mistake of getting a fairly large zucchini. I was at the farmers' market and couldn't find a small/medium zucchini. I decided I would rather get local produce than go to the store to get a smaller zucchini. It resulted in tough skin and large seeds in the Ratatouille. So if you can't find what you need at your local produce stand or farmers' market, it's okay to go to the store! Make sure to go by the same standards for squash and especially eggplant as large seeds can be bitter. Make sure to get fresh, juicy tomatoes. This is key to an amazing Ratatouille as the juice from the tomatoes will yield that amazing soup consistency. You want a stop-sign red color and flesh that gives a little when you squeeze (lightly). I like to use, you guessed it, local heirloom tomatoes. On a side note, I omitted eggplant from my pictures, as I'm not a huge fan of it but I did include instructions on how to prepare it.
With that being said, here’s my “recipe” for Ratatouille. Don’t be afraid to trust yourself! The following makes about four servings, give or take.