Smoky Ratatouille with Fish Monger
Paula: As the temperatures begin to climb in Texas, my thoughts turn to seasonal vegetables, and the best way to prepare them on the grill. Ratatouille, the fragrant vegetable dish that’s the pride of Provence (and yes, a Pixar film), always leaps to mind.
Scott: Imagine my surprise, as I was researching this comment, when I became aware that Ratatouille was a delicious meal of stewed vegetables, and not just Patton Oswalt’s best film.
Paula: I confess, since the film came out in 2007, it’s hard to separate an iconic bistro dish with an amiable rat with impressive knife skills. Regarding the meal: You can serve ratatouille warm or at room temperature with grilled meats or fish, or, my favorite, a picnic-style spread that includes goat cheese, crackly baguettes, and lentil salad.
Scott: I think we should have a serious discussion about kitchen and cooking filmography now, over a warm bowl of this smoky ratatouille. Ratatouille is certainly underrated in that respect. “Big Night,” anyone?
Smoky Ratatouille with Fish Monger
Adapted from “Lulu’s Provencal Table” by Richard Olney
The secret to making this dish sing is cooking each vegetable on its own, and taking your time. Caramelizing sweet onions, slow simmering the tomato mixture, and grill-roasting fleshy sweet peppers over a wood-infused fire delivers a subtle smokiness and concentrated flavors--the essence of each vegetable.
Fragrant with Mediterranean herbs and a touch of heat, Fish Monger, our seafood blend, is an easy ally with this mix of veggies (you might also shake it on a big piece of grouper, as I did, for the main event).
About ⅔ cup olive oil
1 pound large sweet onions, split in two and thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed, peeled, and thinly sliced
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Fish Monger
1 pound firm young eggplant, unpeeled, cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and quartered
3 large, fleshy sweet peppers (ideally 1 red or orange, 1 green, and 1 yellow)
2 fresh bay leaves and 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
To Grill the Peppers
Prepare the grill for two-zone cooking and build a medium fire. Once you’ve dumped the chimney of coals, add a few wood chunks to the periphery of the fire. Clean and oil the cooking grate. When the coals are at barely glowing (at a medium-low heat) covered with a fine gray ash, place the peppers over direct heat. Grill the peppers, turning and flipping as needed for even cooking, until the skins are charred and blistered on all surfaces, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Once the peppers are evenly charred, move them to the cool side of the grill, close the grill, vent for smoking and allow them to finish cooking for an additional 10 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap and allow them to cool for at least 10 minutes. Use your fingers to pull off and discard the skins. Trim out and discard the stems and the core. Pull the peppers apart, lengthwise, into halves or large sections, collecting the juices in the bowl. Trim and discard all seeds, slice the peppers into lengthwise sections and pour their juices over the surface.
To Make the Ratatouille
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven, add the onions and cook, covered, over very low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, or until they are melting and tender but not browned. Remove the lid, raise the heat slightly and cook, stirring regularly, until they are uniformly light golden brown. Add the garlic, zucchini, and the Fish Monger and continue to stir regularly.
Meanwhile, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the eggplant and a pinch of salt. Cook, flipping the eggplant for even browning, until the pieces are softened. Add the eggplant to the pot with the onions, reserving any remaining oil in the skillet.
Add additional oil, if needed, and place the skillet over high heat. Add the tomatoes and salt, cook, shaking and tossing the skillet constantly, until the juices are thick and jammy. Add the tomatoes into the onion mixture, along with the peppers and their juices, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs; lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 hours. Stir the vegetable mixture gently from time to time, lowering the heat as it thickens, until the vegetables are coated in a syrupy sauce. Remove from heat, season with freshly ground pepper and additional salt, to taste.
Serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to two days; remove the ratatouille from the refrigerator an hour or so before serving, and stir in additional olive oil, if desired.
Instructions for grilling the peppers are included, but this dish is a great opportunity to make the most of residual heat, after you’ve fired off something else for dinner, by grilling the peppers over the residual heat a day or two before.