Ratatouille is a specialty if Provence in the south of France, made in the summer when gardens are bursting with produce and the vegetables are ripe, ripe, ripe!
Ratatouille can be served as an appetizer or as a light supper with a platter of salami and another of oil-cured olives, and of course, with roast lamb.
A French cook would spend hours making a ratatouille, browning each vegetable separately for a long time to bring out the natural sugars; and the tomato paste would be homemade from boiled-down tomatoes and water, which were then passed through a sieve. Some cooks add a drop of vinegar; others a small handful of capers; and many cooks add a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley, and a small, finely chopped raw clove of garlic.
- Heat the oil in a large (at least 12 inches) heavy, nonreactive skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened but not browned, 3-4 minutes. Add the bell pepper, eggplant, and half the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly browned, 5-6 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to low, add the tomatoes and all the remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer over low heat until the vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.
- Check after 20 minutes, if there seems to be too much liquid in the pan, uncover, and cook over medium heat for another 10 minutes until the liquid has reduced a bit. Discard the bay leaf and serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled. It will keep, covered for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Bread: A tangy pain de seigle (rye bread) makes a pleasing foil for the stew.
Dinner: The stew makes a fine side dish with striped bass baked with a tot of olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, chopped garlic, and lots of parsley.
Dessert: Wedges of freshly baked Lemon Tart served with clouds of lightly sweetened whipped cream make a superb windup, especially with cups of double expresso.
Wine: A fruity-spicy Gewürztraminer from Alsace, served well chilled, is delightful with the stew and can be continued with the bass.