I used to make ratatouille (an aromatic vegetable mélange of eggplant, zucchini, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs) the classic way (AKA the Julia Child way), sautéing each vegetable separately in copious amounts of olive oil. Julia says that her recipe is the only one she knows in which each vegetable retains its own shape and character.
After some experimenting, I say roasting will accomplish much the same end, with less oil and fuss. The trick is to cut the vegetables rather thickly, so that they begin to caramelize around the edges, concentrating the flavor, while retaining a high degree of moisture.
You can devour your ratatouille immediately after roasting, but 1-2 days melding in the frig produces even better results. Plus, it’s great to have ratatouille on hand for impromptu meals. It’s spectacular in an omelet for instance or tossed with hot pasta.
A recent evening perched at the kitchen bar of Wildwood restaurant in Portland, Oregon gave me another way to use this Mediterranean classic: as a topping for bruschetta, crostini, or crostone. I loved the way Chef Dustin Clark slathered basil pesto onto a large, chewy slice of ciabatta, heaped roasted veggies on top of the pesto, and then topped the whole thing with a copious amount of oil-poached fresh tuna. A few minutes in the hotter-than-hades wood-burning oven, and it was perfection on a plate.
Because I had scored all of the necessary veggies at the Portland Farmers Market that same morning, the inspiration was well timed. A quick run to Pearl Bakery produced the perfect chewy ciabatta. I think even Julia would approve.
Crostone with Basil Mint Pesto & Roasted Ratatouille
This is the quintessential late summer, open-faced sandwich. Slather toasted ciabatta bread with homemade pesto, pile high with roasted ratatouille, heat, and grab a fork and knife.
The roasted veggies are quite moist on their own, but I also like to squeeze a ripe tomato over the plate before positioning the bread on top, to juice things up even more. It softens the bread a bit and is an option you may want to try.
In case you are wondering what crostone is, it’s a bigger version of crostini. While you can eat crostini with your hands, crostone usually requires a fork and knife.
Technique Note: Although it is not essential to salt the eggplant—drawing out much of its moisture and possible bitterness–it seems to improve the texture and prevents the eggplant from absorbing too much oil. If you have the extra hour, do try it.
Quantity Note: Although I specify only 4 crostone here, you will actually have enough pesto and ratatouille for many more. If you anticipate a crowd, just add 1-2 slices of bread for each additional serving.
Basil Mint Pesto
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1 cup packed fresh basil
1 cup packed fresh mint
½ cup grated Parmesan
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil (or grapeseed oil)
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste
2 medium Japanese eggplants (purple or white), trimmed and cut into ½-inch slices
2 ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into ½-inch slices
1 small summer squash, trimmed and cut into ½-inch slices
1 small zucchini, trimmed and cut into ½-inch slices
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribbed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribbed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium red onion, trimmed and cut into ½-inch slices
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons minced fresh basil
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
¼ cup cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil (or grapeseed oil)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
four 1-inch slices ciabatta loaf (wide, somewhat flat Italian bread with thin, crisp crust and moist, porous, chewy interior)
- To make the pesto, in a processor, chop the hazelnuts, basil, mint, Parmesan, garlic, and lemon zest until coarsely chopped.
- With machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until the desired consistency (chunky to smooth). Taste and adjust salt as necessary.
- Reserve ½ cup of pesto. Refrigerate the remaining 1 cup of pesto to use later in another dish.
- To make the vinaigrette, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together ¼ cup olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Reserve.
- To make the ratatouille, you have the option to put the eggplant into a large mixing bowl and salt generously. Let sweat for 1 hour, and then rinse well under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Add the eggplant, other veggies, and garlic to the vinaigrette, and toss gently to coat.
- Spray two large, edged baking sheets with vegetable oil spray.
- Arrange veggies side-by-side, but not touching, on the baking sheets.
- Roast at 375° for about 30 minutes, until starting to caramelize around the edges but not dried out. Remove from the oven and toss with the fresh herbs while still warm. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
- Either use within an hour or layer in a storage container, cover, and refrigerate until needed. Ratatouille actually tastes better a day or two after it is made. Reserve about 2 cups of ratatouille for this dish and store the remaining 8 cups for another use.
- To make the crostone, when you are ready to serve, toast bread slices under a hot broiler for a minute or so per side, just to brown lightly.
- Slather one side of each slice of bread with pesto. Pile ratatouille high on each slice.
- Arrange on an edged baking sheet and eat in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes, just until warmed through.
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Copyright 2011 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.