This lovely Provencal-inspired Classic French Ratatouille has all the summer veggie goodness going on with eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and sweet bell peppers simmered to perfection in a lively tomato sauce.
It’s THE dish to make with your summer vegetable garden abundance, after a trip to the farmer’s market or for a quick culinary escape to the south of France any time of year!
Why This Recipe is a Keeper:
If ever there was a summer comfort food, Classic French Ratatouille has got to be it. It’s a dish I eagerly look forward to making every summer when our garden goes into high gear. Ratatouille is a great way to use up garden produce and it tastes better the next day!
What is Ratatouille? Ratatouille is a rustic southern French vegetable stew made with eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, and tomatoes. In some versions, the vegetables are combined and cooked together for a long period of time until they practically melt.
In other versions, the vegetables are sautéed, browned or roasted in stages, combined and then stewed in the oven or on the stovetop.
I prefer the stovetop method and only briefly simmer the stew on the stovetop because the vegetables retain more of their texture.
Ratatouille requires some knife work, but all the vegetables are cut into ½-inch or 1-inch pieces which goes much faster than chopping or cutting them into a fine dice.
Another reason Ratatouille rocks is, it’s so versatile. Enjoy it over brown rice, quinoa, couscous or with crusty, toasted or grilled French bread. It can be served hot, room temperature or even cold.
- Eggplant: Eggplant is one of the main ingredients in Classic French Ratatouille. It’s commonly believed that eggplant must always be salted before cooking to draw out the bitterness. However, eggplant characteristically has a mild but pleasing bitterness so it’s a personal preference. It’s only when an eggplant gets large and seedy that it develops a pronounced bitter flavor. For this dish, I do salt the eggplant because it won’t absorb as much oil when cooked. Extracting liquid from the eggplant makes it less spongy, resulting in less oil absorption. After draining and before cooking, pat dry with paper towels to remove the excess moisture and salt.
- Bell Peppers: Use any sweet bell pepper or combination: Red, Yellow or Orange.
- Dry White Wine: If you don’t wish to use alcohol, use vegetable broth or even water.
- Crushed Tomatoes: Use canned crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes that you crush yourself or a fresh tomato sauce such as my Parma-Style Tomato Sauce.
- Seasonings: Even though Ratatouille is all about summer freshness, I use dried oregano because the flavor is concentrated and is released as the stew simmers. Fresh herbs are always best added near the end of the cooking process but I didn’t want fresh oregano and fresh basil competing with one another.
- Gather and measure all the ingredients. The French call this mise en place or “everything in its place” which refers to the set-up before cooking.
- Cube the eggplant and place it in a colander. Give it a generous salting with a teaspoon or so of salt.
- Chop the remaining vegetables while the eggplant drains.
- Pat the eggplant dry with a paper towel. Heat some of the olive oil in a Dutch oven and brown the eggplant. Transfer it to a bowl.
- Refresh the oil if needed then add the zucchini and yellow squash. Cook until it begins to brown and soften a bit. Transfer to the bowl with the eggplant.
- Refresh the oil again if needed. Toss in the onion and cook until it begins to soften then add the bell peppers. Cook that a bit until it softens up then add the garlic and give it a stir until it’s fragrant.
- Add the white wine, bring to a boil and let that reduce 1-2 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, dried oregano and crushed red pepper flakes.
- Return the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash to the pot and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper and toss in the fresh basil.
Chef Tips and Tricks:
- The eggplant needs approximately 20-30 minutes to drain in the colander so do that before doing any other chopping. That amount of time gives you time to prep the remaining vegetables.
- After the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash are browned, remove it as quickly as possible from the Dutch oven. If left to sit in the oil even for half a minute, it will absorb oil.
- Rub dried herbs such as the oregano in this dish between your fingers as you sprinkle it into the pot. This helps to “wake up” the flavor of dried herbs and spices.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Peeling eggplant is optional but I prefer not to peel it because that deep purple skin contains powerful antioxidants. Here’s more information on eggplant nutrition from Taste of Home Magazine.
Yes, absolutely. I like to use red onion because it adds to the visual appeal and it’s milder than yellow allowing the delicate flavor of the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash to shine through.
Classic French Ratatouille is a great make-ahead dish because it improves when it sits. Make as directed to the point of adding the fresh basil. Cool, then refrigerate for 1-2 days for best quality. When needed, add ½ cup water, stir and gently reheat over medium-low heat. Add the fresh basil when ready to serve.
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Classic French Ratatouille
- 1 medium eggplant cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon salt plus more for seasoning
- ¼ cup olive oil or as needed, divided
- 1 medium red onion cut into ½-inch pieces
- 2 red bell peppers or a combination, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 2 medium zucchini cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 medium yellow squash cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 large plum tomatoes seeded and coarsely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 can (15-ounce) crushed tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil
- Place eggplant in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let drain in the sink or over a bowl while prepping the remaining vegetables.
- Pat the eggplant dry with a paper towel.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven. Add the eggplant, reduce heat to medium and cook 3-4 minutes or until beginning to soften and is lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl.
- Refresh oil as needed. Add zucchini and yellow squash and cook 3-4 minutes or until beginning to soften and is lightly browned. Transfer to the bowl with the eggplant.
- Refresh oil if needed. Add the onion and cook 4-5 minutes or until the onions begin to soften, adjusting the heat as necessary so the onions don't burn.
- Add the red bell peppers and continue cooking another 3-4 minutes or until beginning to soften.
- Add chopped tomatoes and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes.
- Add wine, bring to a boil and cook 1-2 minutes.
- Add crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano and crushed red pepper flakes.
- Return eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash to the pot, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20-25 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf. Stir in basil.
These are estimated values generated from a nutritional database using unbranded products. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.