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 Provençal stew of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and capscium is an easy way to transform those vegetables, which are at their bountiful peak in summer, into comfort food that captures and concentrates the flavours 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.
Slow Cooker Ratatouille
You’ll need a slow cooker with 4-to-5 litre 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.
From cookbook author and nutritionist Ellie Krieger.
1 medium eggplant (unpeeled; about 500g), cut into 2cm 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 500g), cut into medium dice
2 medium zucchini (about 225g), cut into 2cmpieces
1 large red, orange or yellow capsicum, seeded and cut into thin 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, capsicum, 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.