My five year old decided she hated zucchini… with a passion. I even have an eleven-minute video to illustrate her extreme hatred of the poor little innocuous green vegetable. A video that you better believe I plan on screening at her wedding. In this video she not so calmly suggests, in her words, “you want me to die!”, simply because I was making her eat three pieces of zucchini. Then along came one animated Disney Pixar movie and poof! Ratatouille is amazing, zucchini is still disgusting, but Ratatouille is totally fine. Thanks Walt!
I love this dish. It’s one of my absolute favorites, which is probably why it’s my first recipe posting. This dish can be “dressed up” to impress, or prepared “rustic style” if you don’t have a lot of time to get dinner on the table. The versatility of this dish makes it an absolute winner, but so does the simplicity of it. The Red Pepper Sauce only has 4 ingredients, but it’s robust with flavor and lets each ingredient shine. The roasted, sliced vegetables are baked to al dente perfection, letting each one stand on its own but meld perfectly together. It’s a great Spring, Summer or Winter dish. All of these ingredients can be found year around, but of course this recipe really shines in the summer! If you have had ratatouille before, I’m betting you haven’t had one like this. It’s not the heavy, clunky dish that you expect, it’s light, fresh and flavorful.
First, let’s start with the preparing the red pepper sauce. Like I said, 4 ingredients, so simple! Roughly chop your red peppers, onions, and garlic. Pretty knife cuts are unnecessary here as everything is going into a blender after they’re cooked down.
On low heat, in a small saucepan, simmer the chopped onions and peppers in olive oil, stirring occasionally. You will be cooking this for about 20 minutes until you have coaxed every bit of flavor out of these vegetables and they’re basically just melting in the bottom of the pan. Make sure to add the garlic for only the last 5 minutes so it doesn’t become bitter from being overcooked. You may need to add more oil and turn down the flame even further if the vegetables are cooking too quickly. The longer you are able to cook these veggies, the more flavor you will get out of them. Low and slow is the way to go!
With one eye on your caramelizing onion/pepper mix, go ahead and start prepping your zucchini, summer squash, and Asian eggplant. I prefer to cut up the eggplant last since it will turn brown and oxidize the longer it’s exposed to air. So why Asian eggplant you ask? Asian eggplant has a much more tender skin than your typical eggplant, I always feel like by the time the skin is soft enough to eat on regular eggplant the insides are complete mush. Asian eggplant cooks much more consistently all the way through. Also, Asian eggplant is very similar in shape to zucchini and summer squash so you get much more uniform rings when creating your dish. It also helps to keep in mind, that when you’re selecting your vegetables at the store, try to make sure you get the squash, zucchini and eggplant all with similar diameters. That too helps make everything fit together just perfectly.
Don’t forget to check on those carmelizing peppers and onions!
For this next part, you need to decide if you going to go for the show stopper presentation or if you’re going rustic. If you’re looking for that early night on the couch and can’t wait to get into your yoga pants, simply chop the zucchini, squash, and eggplant into 1/4″ square pieces, and skip to the next paragraph. If you want the fancy-schmancy version, you can either use a mandoline like the one pictured below or just cut the vegetables as thin as you can with your chef knife, I like to keep them about 1/8″ thin.
Regarding mandolines, if you are going to buy one (I use mine all time and highly recommend one) I find that the cheap ones from the Asian markets, work way better than the expensive ones you can buy in specialty kitchen stores that cost triple the price. If you do end up using the mandoline, please use the guard, and watch those fingers. I’ve gotten myself a couple times, OUCH!
Back to the peppers, onions, and garlic mixture; once these are completely rendered down; either throw them into a blender or use a stick blender to whip this into a beautiful smooth sauce, season your sauce with kosher salt to your liking, spread the sauce onto the bottom of your baking dish, and then sprinkle fresh thyme leaves on top of the sauce. For my dish of choice, I like to use a ceramic tart pan that I picked up for cheap at my favorite big-box-Swedish-home & assemble-yourself-furniture store. If you want a look similar to mine, what you are looking for is approximately 11″- 14″ in diameter and shallow. If you don’t have that, can’t find it, or just don’t care that much, any dish will work, even your standard Pyrex 13″x9″- just create long, multiple rows instead of circles with your zucchini, squash, and eggplant.
Now you can start to assemble the raw zucchini medley, alternating zucchini, squash, and eggplant on top of the sauce. Start with your larger diameter pieces for the outer ring, working with smaller pieces as you move inward toward the center. Angle the slices slightly so they aren’t completely standing up straight. This preparation, honestly, is so easy, it just looks complicated- but believe me the extra time you take on assembly really pays off with this dish.
Once the rings are completed top with sprigs of thyme- stems and all, and bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. If you slice everything thin enough there is really no need to cook it any longer. The vegetables retain a little texture and the red pepper sauce brings everything together beautifully.
- 2 Sweet Red Peppers
- 1 Medium Sweet Yellow Onion
- 2 Cloves Garlic
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3 Asian Eggplants (Sliced 1/8" thick)
- 4-5 Zucchini (Sliced 1/8" thick)
- 4-5 Summer Squash (Sliced 1/8" thick)
- 6 Springs of Fresh Thyme
- Kosher Salt
- Preheat over to 350 degrees
- Roughly chop Red Pepper, Sweet Onion, and Garlic.
- In a small saucepan on low heat, cook the Onions and Peppers for 2o minutes, add Garlic for last 5 minutes. Make sure to cook mixture low and slow to extract the most flavor.
- Blend mixture in a blender or with an immersion blender until sauce is smooth.
- Season with Kosher salt, to taste.
- In an oven safe baking dish place 1/4" of sauce on bottom of the dish.
- Line baking dish alternating Zucchini, Squash, Eggplant.
- Top with sprigs of Thyme.
- Sprinkle lightly with Kosher Salt.
- Bake 25-20 minutes.