Friday morning usually finds me shopping at a local farmers market. The vibrant colors, the fresh air, the field-fresh produce are so inspiring.
This week I met up with a girlfriend. We were planning to cook all day for her daughters birthday party on Saturday. Knowing we would be spending long hours in the kitchen, she looked at me and asked, what are we going to have for lunch?
I was standing at produce tables overflowing with beautiful tiny purple eggplant, colorful sweet peppers, onions, green zucchini and ripe red tomatoes. Then inspiration hit. Roasted vegetable ratatouille. I knew she would love it. She did, and you will too.
French-Inspired Vegetable Dish
Bursting with the vibrant colors of fresh vegetables and the flavor of herbs, Ratatouille is a classic vegetable dish from Provence in the South of France. Roasting really brings out the flavor of the vegetables. I like to add whole garlic cloves to the mix, as they too get sweet when you roast them. Once prepped, toss it all together with olive oil and plenty of fresh chopped thyme, then roast in the oven.
Sometimes I’ll add dried lavender or Herbs de Provence, a traditional all-purpose dried herb blend of rosemary, fennel, thyme, savory, basil, tarragon, lavender and other herbs. It’s optional, but fun if you love lavender and have never tried cooking with it.
Roasting vegetables not only brings out their fantastic flavors, but it’s a hands-off technique. While the vegetables are in the oven, work on the rest of your meal. For lunch, I served the Ratatouille over brown rice for a vegan, gluten-free option. It’s also good served with pasta. I use brown rice noodles, but use your favorite kind.
Roasted ratatouille is also good as a side dish for roast chicken or fish. You could even fold the leftovers into an omelet or use them to top crisp, baked crostini spread with goat cheese as an appetizer or snack.
Although I do not always specify it in my recipes, I choose organic produce as much as I can. If it comes down to eating vegetables or not, organic versus conventional, it’s more important to just eat your vegetables. You decide what is best for your family.
Why I buy organic: I believe organic is healthier, because I am consuming less pesticides. It’s also healthier for the environment and the workers who harvest our produce. How can you tell what is organic? Those small, sometimes annoying labels (PLU codes) on fruits and vegetables help. If it is a 4-digit code, it is conventional. If it is a 5-digit code that begins with a 9, it is organic. Not all produce may be marked. Look for a sign that says organic, or ask if it’s conventional or organic.
I choose organic bell peppers because they are on the Dirty Dozen list for produce with the highest levels of pesticides. I choose organic zucchini, as squash is on the list of GMO (gentically modified) crops, which I do not believe are good for us either. I say no to GMO.
Note on Tools
Rimmed baking sheets – I could not live without rimmed baking sheets in my kitchen. I use both the half sheet and quarter sheet size. I use them for baking, roasting, organizing, as a landing spot and to hold raw proteins and other ingredients when they are in the refrigerator. Find them at the links above on Amazon, or check a restaurant supply, cooking store or store like Bed, Bath & Beyond.
The quarter sheet size will fit all ovens and the half sheet fit most. If you have small or older ovens, measure to be sure they will fit. It you use must use the quarter sheet size, you will need two of the quarter size for a single recipe of ratatouille.
Baking parchment – Here is another handy tool for baking, roasting and many other kitchen uses. I prefer to buy the pre-cut half sheet size. You can always cut them in half to use on quarter sheet pans. Parchment helps protect food in the oven from direct contact with a hot metal pan and makes pans easier to clean. You can buy rolls at most grocery stores these days, or buy the cut sheets at cooking and restaurant supply stores or online. I’ve included links for Amazon.
This colorful vegetable dish is inspired by the classic dish from the South of France. Roasting vegetables brings out their wonderful flavors. Serve it as a side dish or over brown rice or pasta for a main course dish. You’ll need baking parchment paper to line your baking sheet. It’s available at most grocery stores these days, cooking stores and online. Note – the eggplant I use is called Indian eggplant. They are about the size of a Roma tomato. If you cannot find this variety, use other small eggplants or the long, thin Japanese variety.
- 1 large red, yellow or orange bell pepper
- 1/2 large onion
- 6-8 very small eggplants (or 1 Japanese eggplant)
- 2 medium zucchini
- 2-3 large Roma tomatoes
- 8-10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves
- 1-2 teaspoons dried lavender or Herbs de Provence (optional)
- 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- A sprinkle of fresh grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
- Tools note – parchment paper and a rimmed baking sheet
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees (204 C). Line a half sheet size rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- Prep vegetables – Cut all of your vegetables into approximately the same sizes. Don’t cut them too small or they will roast too quickly and risk burning. See photos in the post for a visual reference.
- Cut the peppers into large chunks about 1 1/2″ square
- Cut onion into large chunks
- If you are using the small Indian eggplant, cut them in quarters top to bottom, and depending on the size, maybe in half crosswise for 8 pieces. If using another variety of eggplant, cut it into small chunks.
- For zucchini, quarter them lengthwise, then cut into about 5 pieces each.
- For the tomato, cut into quarters, then across again into 8 pieces.
- Place all vegetables in a large bowl along with the whole garlic cloves and toss with olive oil and herbs. Spread the vegetables on the parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven until the vegetables are shriveled and browning at the edges. It will take between 35-45 minutes. Timing will depend on your oven and the size you cut your vegetables. When you smell them, check them. Serve over rice, noodles or as a side dish.