I've never been a big ratatouille fan. But when today's visit to the Farmer's Market resulted in a pile of eggplant, summer squash and red pepper on my counter, it seemed like the obvious choice. Fortunately, a recent issue of Fine Cooking (my current favorite cooking magazine) contained a great article on the art of ratatouille making. I agree completely with the author's assessment of where traditional ratatouille recipes go wrong:
While there's nothing wrong with the concept of ratatouille - a medley of these vegetables accented with garlic and onion, fresh herbs, and some fruity olive oil - the execution of the dish is often a big fat disappointment for me. Most ratatouille just feels like vegetable porridge. Looking through a half-dozen cookbooks, I saw instructions to "simmer," "stew," or even "boil" - the idea being to marry the flavors of the vegetables. But for me, too much togetherness just makes the dish bland. The vegetables lose their own personalities, and the texture gets so mushy.The author presents two solutions - one where the vegetables are individually sauteed and combined, and another where everything is chopped up and roasted together. I thought the dry heat of grilling could duplicate the roasting effect, and give a nice smoky flavor at the same time. I'm pleased to say it was a very successful experiment.
We were serving this as a main dish, so decided to throw some grilled tempeh in for protein. You could, of course, make it without the tempeh and serve it as a side dish, but we all agree that the textural and flavor contrast of the tempeh was part of what made it so good.
Grilled Ratatouille with Tempeh
Note: This is less a recipe and more of a concept, so proportions are not particularly important - these are just the amounts we ended up with.
5 very small summer squash
4 small eggplant (equivalent to one large, but I find the small ones less bitter)
1 head garlic
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
6 tbsp olive oil
2 red peppers
3 tomatoes (4 would have been better)
2 pkg tempeh (1 lb total)
soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1/4 c basil leaf chiffonade
Get your charcoal grill started while you're prepping the veggies.
Trim the ends of the squash and eggplant and cut in half lengthwise. Depending on the size of the eggplant, you may want to cut them in half again. Toss the squash and eggplant with 1/4 cup of the olive oil, the rosemary, and a bunch of minced garlic. Prepare the onions for grilling - I cut them in half, keeping the root intact, but that required some messing around on the grill to get the insides cooked - slices would probably be better. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt.
Peel the tomatoes by cutting an x in the bottom then dropping them into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute. The skin should easily slip off. Cut tomatoes into 1 inch chunks then set aside.
Season tempeh with some soy sauce, set aside.
By now your grill should be hot and raring to go. Load it up with whatever veggies will fit - depending on the size of your grill, you might need to work in batches. The red peppers go on whole - you want to char them well on all sides, then put them into a paper or plastic bag to steam. Cook the squash and eggplant and onion on all sides until cooked through but not too soft. Transfer all the veggies into a big bowl, then cook the tempeh until browned and a little crispy.
Moving inside, heat the remainder of the olive oil in a large pan. When it's hot, add any garlic/ rosemary that remains in the container where you marinated the veggies, plus a bunch more minced garlic. Saute for 30 seconds, then add tomatoes and a pinch of kosher salt. While that cooks and softens, cut the grilled veggies into chunks. If your onions are not quite cooked through, add them in with the tomatoes. After the tomatoes have reduced some (maybe 3-4 minutes) stir in the rest of the veggies and continue to cook. Chop the tempeh into cubes, and stir that in. Add a splash of red wine.
Taste, and add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for just a couple minutes longer to allow everything to heat through and the flavors to combine. Stir in the parsley and basil just before serving.