Provençal meets Masala in this Indian-spiced variation on ratatouille.
A friend first introduced me to Francis Lam’s sublime and utterly killer Weapons-Grade Ratatouille a few years ago, saying, “This is the only ratatouille recipe you need.” She was 100% correct. Sure, I like playing around with variations on ratatouille and always will, but when I want the straightforward, real-deal, gestalt of the thing, I never turn anywhere else now. Rearrange whatever plans you need to in order to make his original recipe as soon as you possibly can. (Bonus: just reading the recipe and accompanying text is a good time.)
Then, if you DO feel like experimenting, consider giving this one a try. I had the brainstorm way back in February, while watching “The Hundred Foot Journey”, realizing the eggplant and tomatoes would make this a great template for French-Indian fusion. And yet: February. So I’ve been sitting on that concept for over 6 months – and the time is now.
Because I’m so enamored with Lam’s method (oh tomato jam, how you send me), I still used his overall approach here and all credit is thoroughly due to him. Fair warning: This is not a quick fix recipe, this is a hang around the kitchen all afternoon recipe. Plenty of downtime – it’s not hard labor at all – but patience IS one of the most essential ingredients. Put on some good music, take your time, and I solemnly swear it will be worth it (either Lam’s original or the fusion variation here).
- ½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil, plus a few tablespoons, divided
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 large shallot, diced
- 7-8 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 2 large red peppers, trimmed and seeded
- 4 pounds fresh tomatoes, cored and quartered
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1½ teaspoons cardamom
- 2½ pounds zucchini, diced into ½ inch cubes
- 1 large eggplant, diced into ½ inch cubes
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- Heat ½ cup of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add onion and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and becoming translucent. Add garlic and cook 5 more minutes. Season with a touch of salt and pepper.
- Purée the red peppers and add to the pot. Season again with a little salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until it becomes what Lam described as a "rich, rusty jam."
- Now purée the tomatoes and add them too. The jam will become pale pink and look like a weak soup - don't despair. This will all change significantly later. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer (low enough that you only need to stir it periodically, but high enough to see lazy bubbles blupping to the surface. Add 1 teaspoon each of cumin and cardamom and another bit of salt and pepper.
- Preheat oven to 450. Toss the zucchini with salt, pepper and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread out in one layer on a baking sheet (you'll have to do this in batches). Bake each for about 10 minutes, until cooked through and getting golden brown on the bottom - I tossed them a bit about halfway through. Put the finished batches aside in a bowl as you go.
- Toss the eggplant with another teaspoon of cumin, half a teaspoon of cardamom, a smidge more salt and pepper, and olive oil. Repeat the same process you did with the zucchini, baking in batches. Add the results to the zucchini in your bowl.
- I just have no choice but to quote Lam's next instruction in its entirety here: "When the 6 pounds of stuff you cooked in the tomato pot can be packed into a pint of good-God-DAMN goodness, it will have flavor that doesn’t quit — a finish that lasts forever. You’ll know it’s ready when it gives the oil back up, it makes squishy noises when you stir it, and when you taste it and suddenly want to punch a hole in the wall."
- To finish, once you've attained the umami nirvana described above, stir in the garam masala and coriander. Incorporate the zucchini and eggplant into the tomato-pepper base (carefully, so they retain their form).
- Serve enough to reward yourself for your work while still saving a bit for tomorrow - it is, of course, even better the next day.
— posted by Anne