What Is Ratatouille?
This easy summer dish might have had humble beginnings, but it's inspired countless iterations. Its simple flavors meld beautifully into a hearty main dish or side.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
Ratatouille is like many delicious dishes that have become iconic and symbolize a region. What started as peasant food ultimately worked its way up to being featured on restaurant menus. At that point, it became the modern version of the eggplant, zucchini, pepper and tomato dish we enjoy today, and many chefs get creative with riffs on the classic preparation, adding other vegetables or trying different preparation styles.
What Is Ratatouille?
Ratatouille is a summer vegetable stew that originated as a French Provencal dish from Nice. Think of the vegetables that grow well in your yard, ready to be picked together in late summer and early fall — that’s ratatouille. It's a stew of zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and eggplant, with herbs and spices and some onions and garlic usually thrown in for good measure. The coast of Provence is on the Mediterranean Sea and has a climate similar to California’s, which means the growing season for the vegetables in ratatouille are available for many months. You wouldn’t have it at dinner for New Year’s Eve, but you might have it in late October through mid-November.
What Are the Ingredients In Ratatouille?
The typical ingredients in ratatouille are tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, onions and fresh herbs. Garlic may find its way in there if the cook likes it. The herbs used are typically basil and thyme, but many herbs grow in Provence so it's likely that others also made their way into peoples' ratatouille preparations. Onions are optional, but olive oil isn't. If you want a yellow squash in the mix, choose golden zucchini instead of yellow summer squash. Summer squash has lots of seeds and is more watery than golden zucchini, which will match the texture of your green zucchini.
After doing a lot of ratatouille research, we learned that there are so, so many ways to make ratatouille. Let’s start with how to cut the vegetables: chunks, thin and thick slices, big pieces and small pieces and strips like big French fries. In the end, it doesn’t really matter because the whole point of ratatouille is for the flavors to come together in a stew, and it’s supposed to be mushy.
In 2017, a society called Cuisine nicoise, patrimoine de l'humanité published a study about ratatouille. What they found is that the first record of ratatouille indicates that each vegetable was cooked on its own in olive oil and then mixed together and cooked some more. Most recipes now call for the vegetables to be cooked together for ease, and you do still want them to be cooked for a long time. Some recipes call for cooking ratatouille in a pot on the stove: we suggest a Dutch oven. Others use a Dutch oven but bake the stew in a hot oven. Recipes that call for thinly sliced vegetables often arrange them in a shallow pan and bake them that way: it’s a beautiful presentation. In the recipes gathered below, you’ll see a few different methods for making ratatouille. After looking at them, you can decide which method works best for you.
What Should You Serve With Ratatouille?
While we know everyone has their personal favorites, our favorite way to have ratatouille is hot, on top of a pool of creamy polenta with a sprinkle of cheese. But the dish is so versatile it can be served hot or at room temperature. Chopped up and hot, it also makes delicious omelet filling. Many families have the ratatouille as the main course and a salad and crusty bread are the side dishes. If you want the ratatouille to be the side, think about grilling any kind of chops or steaks. The hearty grill flavor is a good balance for the vegetables.
All of the best summer vegetables ripen at the same time, so it’s no wonder they come together to make The Best Ratatouille.
When the ratatouille is the pasta topping, you don’t need a big batch, so we call for a Japanese eggplant. That way you don’t have half an eggplant leftover.
Summer vegetables cooked on the grill turn a classic French vegetable stew into a salad.
Upping the tomato and adding broth turn ratatouille the stew into ratatouille the soup.
When you’d rather be outside than inside cooking on a summer afternoon, turn to this speedy ratatouille cooked in a microwave.