The Re-Evolution of a Classic Dish: Ratatouille

My dear friend and culinary colleague Marguerite Thomas and I have been exchanging recipes since the outset of our friendship nearly a decade ago. She came up with a really cute idea for a joint cookbook entitled "e-mail eats"! but she's very busy with projects including travels for her column in "wine news" and where she and her husband Paul Lukas offer up inspired food and wine pairings. and I'm busy with my upcoming cake book. so I'm going to share one of the best of our "e-mail eats" collection right now while all the summer vegetables necessary for this timeless recipe are at their peak. and I'm going to include the original e-mail because the uniquely casual and friendly charm of Marguerite's writing is not something one finds very often if at all in recipe books!

Marguerite's ratatouille has become a summer tradition. it is superb with grilled leg of lamb or lamb chops and I always freeze little packages to enjoy with pasta during the winter. This is an idea borrowed from my beloved Sicilian friend and colleague Angelica Pulvirenti. She makes this dish for me every summer by sautéeing the vegetables in an ample amount of olive oil and then tossing it with pasta.

This summer, I tried something a little different for the ratatouille. i grilled the egg plant (cut in rounds), zuchinni (cut in half the long way), and peppers—uncut, all brushed well with olive oil. I used high heat, making sure to turn the vegetables and check for doneness to prevent blackening. The slight touch of smoky char was a fantastic addition. Marguerite's original e-mailed recipe:

Here's how I do the ratatat, hmmm, I like that drum roll--tooooooeeeeeeeee: I cut eggplant, zuch, bell peps into chunks, more or less bite size, spread on a--is it a jelly roll pan, the kind with low sides? Or even a roasting pan, the main thing is to have a single layer. Toss with o oil, maybe salt, put in oven. Usually I crank it up to 425 or so, yesterday lowered it to 250 because went to health club--either way seems to work fine. On another baking. pan I put a layer of chunked onion, whole peeled garlic cloves (lots) tomatoes, and I threw in some wilted cherry tomatoes which added a wonderful jammy flavor because they sort of caramelized. toss with oil, add lots of thyme, basil, sage, rosemary, whatever. Bake until everything is very very tender. Combine it all, smoosh up a little to make it less chunky (vegs should be falling apart tender, at least to my taste--this isn't the moment for anything al dente). I learned this basic technique from a deli where Adam (her son) used to work (now closed, was on Madison and 92nd, and it's never failed. Obviously there's lots of leeway as to ingredients, timing, seasoning etc. Sometimes I stir in capers after it's cooked. Squeeze of lemon of course.

Rose Notes: Sheet pan #1 1 medium eggplant 2 med/small zucchini 1 bell pepper 1 big hot pepper Sheet pan #2 1 large onion 5 plum tomatoes about 9 grape tomatoes On both pans, salt, thyme, basil, etc. and about 1/2 cup of oil (1/4 cup on each) (put garlic, drizzled with o. oil in foil and roast along with the veggies—app 60 min.) Squeeze of lemon at end Convection 375°F/190˚C (without convection 400°F/200˚C ) 50 to 60 min. Rotate pans every 20 minutes and stir.

For the pasta version: Heat some olive oil in a large skillet and sauté a clove of garlic just until golden. Add the ratatouille, about 1 cup per serving and on low heat, allow it to heat while boiling the pasta. Boil about 4 ounces of pasta per serving in salted water and when almost done—barely a white line is visible when cutting a strand in two, lift the pasta dripping with pasta boiling water into the skillet with the ratatouille. Raise the heat slightly and toss with the pasta, adding more water as needed to keep it from drying. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the pasta is thoroughly coated with the juices from the vegetables. Add a splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar and toss to mix through. Serve topped with freshly grated parmesan.