Ratatouille is a classic vegetable dish starring eggplant, zucchini, peppers and tomato that is deeply steeped in the culture of Mediterranean France. When I married a man from the heart of Provence, one of the first lessons I received from my new mother-in-law Muriel was how to make a proper ratatouille. (The other was how to pluck feathers from a newly-butchered turkey, but that's a story for another day.)
Turns out, my American sensibilities had me cooking a ratatouille far too long, making it a gloppy stew of indistinguishable mixed vegetables, a crime I've seen committed more often than not here in the US.
Muriel was kind in her rebuke, and showed me her way instead. The most important lesson was to cook each vegetable separately, to honor their individuality. Moreover, the vegetables needed to be cooked in the same pan, in a specific order, so that the flavors would be built just right. (The order, in case you are wondering, is: eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onion, tomatoes, and I use the acronym EZ-POT to remember.)
I was skeptical. But her version is easily the best I have ever eaten, so I follow it without fail, even if the rebellious part of me wonders if I dared to cook the zucchini out of order, would anyone really notice? But, why mess with genius?
Unless it's BBQ season and I want to grill out! After years of following proper EZ-POT protocol, I decided to try an outdoor grilled version of ratatouille. A little summertime char on the veggies could be a good thing. And indeed it was.
The result was a tasty dish that was somewhere in between a grilled vegetable salad (but not quite as acidic) and a traditional ratatouille (but not quite capturing that synergistic vegetable vibe). Still, a worthy summertime side dish in its own right.
Grilled ratatouille is a happy complement to any grilled meat or fish, and it's hearty enough to be the main dish for vegetarians. And leftovers can be spooned on top of roasted potatoes, rice, a green salad, or even spread on toast, sprinkled with cheese and broiled for a quick lunch.
• Contact Melissa D'arabian at www.melissadarabian.net.