A recipe: Jason’s Ratatouille
One thing that even Longtime Readers™ may not know about me is how much I like to cook.
I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. Even back in junior high school, I was the one boy in my Home Economics class who actually enjoyed being there. When we were cooking, at least, to me Home Ec was basically a chemistry class where you could eat the results of the experiments. What’s not to like about that?
Anyway, I bring this up because I’ve got a recipe I’m going to share with you. It’s a recipe that comes with some sentimental attachments, which is why I’ve put so much time into it.
You see, my mother was a pretty good cook. She had a few dishes that became particular family favorites. One of these was ratatouille, a French vegetable casserole that she could cook the hell out of.
Unfortunately, after she passed away in 2005 I realized that she had never told me her recipe. And it wasn’t written down anywhere that I could ever find, either. So I had no idea what she had done that made her ratatouille so good. I probably never will.
For a long time, I figured that this was just a link to her that I’d lost forever. But earlier this year, the memory started nagging at me. I wanted to figure it out, to try and restore this connection.
So I’ve spent the last several months tinkering with ratatouille recipes, gathered from all over the place, trying to come up with one that seemed at minimum like a credible homage to my mother’s recipe. I never did find one that met that standard right off the page. But eventually, after lots of experimenting and trial and error, I came up with one that did. (I’m indebted to the author of this recipe, which I used as a starting point.) So I’m posting it here to share with you — both to honor my mother’s memory, and because I think it’s pretty yummy all on its own.
Beyond the fact that its taste reminds me of the ratatouille my Mom used to make, I like this recipe because it’s easy and flexible. It doesn’t require a lot of extensive prep work or expensive, hard-to-find ingredients. You can go from start to having it ready to serve in under an hour. There’s lots of room to make substitutions in the ingredients, if a particular one is unavailable or out of season or just doesn’t fit your tastes. (The only one that’s absolutely key is the eggplant; it gives it the chewy texture that’s so nice.) It works as well as an entrée as it does as a side dish, and it re-heats nicely as leftovers if you make too much. Like I said, easy; flexible.
So without further ado, I present my recipe for ratatouille, inspired by my mother’s. I call it Jason’s Ratatouille because, no matter how close I have come to her recipe, it’s still an echo, an imitation. But it’s an imitation that’s made with love; and maybe that’s enough.
- 2 small eggplant, diced
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1-2 zucchini, chopped
- 1-2 summer squash, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 can tomato sauce
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- A dash of kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F; coat a 9″ x 13″ (3.7 quart) baking dish or casserole with cooking spray.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once it’s warm, add in the garlic, onion and eggplant. Cook for 8 minutes to soften the vegetables, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the zucchini, summer squash, bell pepper, basil, parsley and kosher salt. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Spread the cooked vegetables from the pot into a layer in the baking dish. Cover vegetables with tomato sauce; cover tomato sauce with mozzarella cheese.
- Place in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.
That’s it! You now have a dish of warm, bubbly, cheerful ratatouille. Enjoy.