Ratatouille is a classic vegetable stew from the south of France, traditionally made with summer vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Some recipes call for cooking the ingredients separately and then layering them together, allowing for the individual flavors to stand on their own. This is a great method for turning the stew into a salad, grilling some ingredients and leaving others raw, then bringing it all together with a simple vinaigrette made with tomato water. I like to serve this with some grilled French bread and soft goat cheese, or chèvre, that has been blended with chopped fresh herbs.
for the Ratatouille Salad:
1 large eggplant or a dozen mini (“fairy tale”) eggplants
1 large onion
2 medium zucchini
2 medium summer squash
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
Several fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1. Prepare the eggplant by slicing it into 1/2-inch rounds (if using one large) or slicing in half lengthwise (if using mini). Sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside for about 15 minutes.
2. Slice the onion into 1/2-inch slices. Heat the grill to medium-high and lightly oil the grill so the vegetables don’t stick. Place the eggplant on the grill and cook a few minutes per side until lightly browned, then do the same with the onion. Remove the vegetables and set aside to cool.
3. While the eggplant and onion are cooling, cut the zucchini lengthwise into long ribbons (use a vegetable peeler or a mandolin), then cut the summer squash in half lengthwise, then slice thinly into half-moons. Halve the cherry tomatoes.
4. Arrange the vegetables in layers on a platter or shallow salad bowl, starting with the zucchini ribbons on the bottom, then add the summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes, and onion. Sprinkle the basil over the top and drizzle the Tomato Water Vinaigrette over everything, then finish off with some freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the table arranged this way, then mix it all together at the table just before serving.
for the Tomato Water Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup fresh tomato water (method below)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Pinch of salt
Make the tomato water by taking half of a tomato and squeezing it into a bowl; strain the liquid and whisk together with the vinegar, olive oil, and salt, then add the garlic clove and thyme leaves. Set aside for 30 minutes, then whisk together again just before pouring over the salad.