Every time we visit David's family in France, I am spoiled rotten. Usually the day starts with warm pastries and a decadent cup of coffee, served outside if the weather is nice. Both David's parents were bakers, so their pastries are beyond belief. And I don't know where Joëlle gets her coffee beans, but I swear the resulting cup of coffee is pure magic. There is usually orange juice and fresh melon. We sit and chat, watching the world come to life as the sun rises. Their home is at the top of a ridge overlooking rolling hills filled with grains and white cows called "Charolais". Just outside a small town, it is the best of the French countryside.
After an eventful day of exploring the countryside or visiting family, we return to their home for dinner. Often, if the weather is still nice, we eat outside again. We open a bottle of rosé, and slice a fresh baguette. Joëlle is always so thoughtful to make sure there are plenty of vegetable dishes and salad for me, even if she has also prepared a different main dish for the family. They are all so thoughtful.
On one of these storybook evenings, a pan appeared on the table, smelling heavenly. There was something fragrant and fresh underneath the lid, but I couldn't yet see what it was. Soon, Joëlle uncovered the mysterious dish, and served the best ratatouille I have ever had in my life. I have made ratatouille before with thinly sliced vegetables baked in tomato sauce, but it didn't hold a candle to this. After many compliments and a second and third helping, I finally asked how she did it.
She laughed a bit and insisted it was simple. Onions, zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes, cooked with salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence. Seriously? How could something so delicious be so simple? I listened carefully (getting translations from David when necessary), and vowed to try it when I got home. Well, I've been home from France for almost two months and just got around to trying it this weekend. Luckily, I think I remembered everything correctly (it is simple), because it turned out delightful! I won't go so far as to say it was as good as Mama Joëlle's, but it was fantastic. Fresh, yet savory; I think this is going to be a staple through the fall.
Mama Joëlle's Ratatouille
Serves 6 as a side dish or 4 as a main (with bread and salad)
- 1 Teaspoon grape seed oil or vegetable broth
- 1 Medium Yellow Onion - diced
- 2 Medium Zucchini - chopped
- 1 Large Eggplant - peeled & chopped
- 3 Beefsteak Tomatoes (or other large variety)
- 1 Teaspoon Herbs de Provence
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Parsley for garnish (if desired)
- Blanch and peel the tomatoes. Roughly chop.
- In a large pan, heat oil or vegetable broth over medium heat.
- Once hot, add onion and cook 2-3 minutes or until translucent and beginning to turn golden.
- Add zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 15-20 minutes.
- If desired, garnish with parsley and serve warm.
- Since this recipe is so simple, it relies on quality ingredients: fresh vegetables and a high quality blend of herbs de Provence.
- The zucchini and eggplant will lose liquid as they cook. If there is a lot of liquid in the pan at the end, raise the heat to medium to cook off some of the excess.
- If short on time, skip blanching and peeling the tomatoes and peeling the eggplant. I prefer them without skins, but it wouldn't kill the recipe if you're in a rush. If you skip peeling the eggplant, be aware that the skin can become rubbery once cooked.
- If your tomatoes are particularly seedy/juicy, cut out that part and add only the meat of the tomatoes.
- Best served with crusty French bread.