No, not the Pixar movie. The food. What exactly is ratatouille? Basically it is peasant stew. Sometimes made in a pot sometimes baked in an oven. Most people associate ratatouille with eggplant. Why? Eggplant is nasty and slimy and putrid. (Apologies to those of you who like eggplant.) There is no hard and fast rule that ratatouille must be made with eggplant. It's not Eggplant Parmesan which, by virtue of its name, would imply that eggplant is a big part of the pot.
Ratatouille is a French Provencal stew. And guess what grows really well in Nice? Yep. Eggplant. It is Nice's answer to the Pacific Northwest's zucchini. When I lived in Oregon, I used to wake up to find that someone had gifted me random zukes on my back step quite often. People had so much of it that you had to actually either pay people to take it off your hands or gift it to people, thus making them feel obligated to use it.
They key ingredient in ratatouille is actually the tomatoes. Everything else is whatever you have on hand. It can be eggplant (although I never have random eggplant just hanging around in my refrigerator). But it can also be onions, garlic, zucchini, summer squash, carrots, bell peppers, celery, and mushrooms. Go look in your pantry and see what you have available. It probably can be made into this tasty stew.
There is also a big debate over whether ratatouille should be made from vegetables thinly sliced and layered or whether the vegetables should just be cut into chunks and all jumbled together. Personally I prefer the thinly sliced variety of ratatouille, but I am not opposed to something that more resembles stew. In fact I would bet that most housewives in Provencal France had more glop than layers.
Here is my recipe for ratatouille:
6-7 medium sized squashes (this can be all one variety or a mix of zukes and summer squashes or if you so decide to eggplant)
1 pound of mushrooms, sliced
1 - 28oz can of diced tomatoes. (I prefer the petite diced, but have no prejudice to regular diced)
1 small onion diced
1/2 a head of garlic (I like garlic. You may decide that this is too much garlic for you.)
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
herbs (whatever you like although basil and thyme are nice as are oregano and rosemary)
Slice your squashes. I like using my mandolin (which I call my guillotine) for nice even thin slices.
In a medium sautee pan, heat your oil and add your onions and garlic (this would be an ok time to throw in celery as well). Cook until the onions are tender. I actually like to caramelize them just a bit, but that's up to you. The important thing is to cook them so that the onions lose their bite and are sweet. Add the entire can of tomatoes to the pot. Do not drain them. Just open the can and dump. Stir and add in your salt, pepper and herbs to taste.
Grease a 9x13 baking dish (I like to use my Pampered Chef baker, but whatever you have will work). When the tomato mixture is hot, spoon some of it into the bottom of your prepared dish. Layer your squashes and mushrooms. You can make them all neat and prettyful or you can just put them in there so that they are all just all flat. This is peasant stew. Don't stress about it. Pour the rest of the sauce over the squashes and mushrooms. Cover (I prefer using parchment paper, but if you must you may use aluminium foil). Bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes or until the squashes are tender.