I have often been conflicted about ratatouille. Not about eating it, because that is an undisputed pleasure, but about cooking it. On the one hand, making the classic Provencal stew of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and peppers is an easy way to transform those vegetables, which are at their bountiful peak in August, into comfort food that captures and concentrates the flavors of the season. Then again, it's the middle of summer, for goodness' sake; who wants to be in the kitchen cooking stew?
The simple solution, it turns out, is the slow-cooker. The countertop appliance allows you to breezily toss the vegetables together (with thyme and a luxurious coating of olive oil and tomato paste), plug it in and leave. When you return several hours later, you just need to uncover it so it can thicken a bit, and before you know it, you have a sumptuous, herb-infused, soft (but not mushy!) medley of vegetables that is ready to be eaten as a side dish with grilled poultry or meat, as a bed for a fish fillet, on a sandwich or perhaps over toast with an egg on top.
It is delicious warm or at room temperature, and it not only keeps in the refrigerator for several days but also freezes well, so you can preserve the essence of summer, conflict-free, throughout the year.
You'll need a slow-cooker with 4-to-5 1/2-quart capacity.
MAKE AHEAD: The salted eggplant needs to drain for 30 minutes. The ratatouille can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
• 1 medium eggplant (unpeeled; about 1 pound), cut into 3/4-inch pieces
•1 1/2 teaspoons salt
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 tablespoons tomato paste
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 5 medium Roma or plum tomatoes (about 1 pound), cut into medium dice
• 2 medium zucchini and/or yellow summer squash (about 8 ounces each), cut into 3/4-inch pieces
• 1 large red, orange or yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
• 1 large onion, sliced into half-moons
• 4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (may substitute 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
• 1 bay leaf
• Fresh basil leaves, left whole or cut into ribbons (chiffonade), for garnish
Place the eggplant in a colander set over a bowl or in the sink, and toss with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Allow to sit and drain for 30 minutes, then rinse the eggplant with cold water. Lay the eggplant on paper towels and pat with additional paper towels to remove as much water as possible.
Whisk together the oil, tomato paste, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the black pepper in a medium bowl until incorporated.
Combine the drained/rinsed eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini and/or squash, bell pepper, onion, garlic and thyme in your slow-cooker. Add the oil-tomato paste mixture and stir to incorporate. Add the bay leaf. Cover and cook on LOW for 4 hours or until the vegetables are tender, then uncover and cook for 1 hour more to allow some of the liquid to evaporate and the vegetables to meld further. Discard the bay leaf.
Garnish with the basil before serving.
Nutrition | Per serving (using 2/3 teaspoon salt to account for rinsing): 130 calories, 3 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 280 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar