Ratatouille is a classic medley of cooked zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, peppers, onions, and tomatoes. It’s a great way to use up vegetables that surge into ripeness during the height of summer. In this recipe, the vegetables are grilled instead of roasted or simmered. (Note: We southerners grill, not barbecue. Barbecue is a noun, not a verb.) This recipe is written for outdoor grilling. You can also cook the vegetables indoors on a ridged grill pan or an electric countertop grill, but the flavor is not the same.
When I grill vegetables, I season them with dressing after they are cooked instead of marinating them beforehand. Raw vegetables are hard and solid, so they can’t absorb the liquid. It’s like trying to marinate ping-pong balls–they get wet on the surface, but nothing soaks in. In contrast, cooked vegetables are soft enough to absorb the dressing.
Makes 6 servings
1 medium zucchini
1 medium summer squash
1 medium, slender Asian eggplant
1 large red, yellow, or orange bell pepper or other sweet pepper
1 large red onion
4 Roma tomatoes
Vegetable oil, for brushing
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1. Preheat a gas grill or charcoal grill for direct cooking over medium heat. For a gas grill, preheat the burners on high, covered, for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to medium. For a charcoal grill, open the vents of the bottom of the grill and light the charcoal. When the charcoal is covered in gray ash (about 15 minutes after lighting), spread the coals in an even layer and replace the grate. When you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill rack for 5 seconds, the heat is medium.
2. While the grill preheats, trim the vegetables. Cut the zucchini, squash, and eggplant crosswise or on the diagonal into 1//3-inch-thick slices. Keep them about the same thickness so they’ll cook at the same rate. Cut the pepper into wide planks from around the core. Cut the onion into 1//2-inch-wide wedges, leaving a small piece of the root attached to hold the wedge together. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Brush the vegetables with only enough vegetable oil to barely moisten them. (Excess oil will drip off the vegetables and cause flare-ups.)
3. To keep the vegetables from falling through the grate, place them in a vegetable basket or on a mesh grilling screen. Grill the vegetables, turning frequently with tongs, until they are tender and lightly charred in spots, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cooked vegetables into a large bowl and cover to hold in the steam. The steam will finish cooking the vegetables. If the vegetables are getting too charred before they get tender, move them to the cooler area of the grill or spread them onto a rimmed baking sheet and finish cooking them in a 400°F oven.
4. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, basil, and oregano in a small bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. Pour over the hot vegetables and toss to coat. Serve the vegetables warm or at room temperature. Store covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days.
What else works? You can vary the combination or proportion of the vegetables, but you need a total of 2 to 2 1/2 pounds. You can replace the olive oil mixture with your favorite bottled vinaigrette or marinade.
Sheri Castle is a food writer and cooking instructor based in Chapel Hill, N.C. Visit the author’s website here. Become a fan of her book on Facebook here, or follow the author on Twitter @shericastle.
Recipes from The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes by Sheri Castle. Copyright © 2011 by Sheri Castle.