I was going to call it "Roasted Rat", but had a failure of nerve. Can't fool anyone, anyway- it's another version of the ubiquitous ratatouille. There are good reasons why you see it everywhere-especially now. This concoction is made a bit differently from the ratatouille we grew up on. Or, that I grew up on, at least, as prepared by my mother, channeling Craig Claibourne. And there was absolutely nothing wrong with that stuff- it was a taste revelation for an American kid in the sixties, and I adored it, hot or lukewarm. In fact, it was such a novel treat then, that it is hard for me to realize how humdrum some people now consider it. It doesn't spoil it for me at all- I still think it's brilliant.
When I was growing up, my friends were mostly pretty interested in the non-ordinary food my mother turned out at our house. I don't think we always give children and teenagers enough credit for being willing to try something new- especially if it comes from someone who has given them goodies before. Within reason- I'm not suggesting offering strange adolescents a buffet of offal to gag over. But most will tackle their first artichoke bravely, especially when there's something obviously delicious, like melted butter, to dunk it in.
The lovely flashback in "Ratatouille", where the Cruella-esque food critic is transported to his childhood table, and his mother's fragrant ratatouille, charmed the pants off me, and 'tis the season, anyway. Over the years, my methods have become less and less traditional, as I have followed to it's logical (in my mind) extention, Julia Child's advice to cook the ingredients separately, at first, preserving the distinct flavors. My daughter makes a fine ratatouille with a similar theoretical basis, there's a gorgeous one in "Cucina Sympatica", and the artful chef-y French Laundry version modeled in the film is inspirational, too (though I do feel, with the redfox, that it would be quite the trick to plate it as suggested.)
This one-not really a ratatouille at all, I suppose- evolved in large part from my annual summer obsession with roasted vegetables. I can go a solid week, really, wanting roasted vegetables for supper every night, with maybe a little leftover chicken, or lamb or something tossed in, over a pile of salad greens- preferably with lots of arugula. Sometimes I shave a little cheese (the ricotta salata is dandy for this) over the greens first, and toss the hot veg over, so the cheese melts a bit. Fresh herbs on top, shredded thinly do not hurt, either. I know you can use any number of (or no) dressings over such a pile, but my favorite is the following:
a very finely chopped large shallot
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice of a large lemon
extra virgin olive oil in same quantity as lemon juice, maybe just a tad more
Mix together, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes if possible. Pour over roast veg, in reasonable quantities- it will keep a few days in the fridge-though you must bring it to room temperature, of course, if you expect to pour it. Simple, but somehow insanely good with any roasted veg. Don't substitute for the shallot, if you want to see what I mean about this.
Anyway, the following is a not-quite ratatouille variant/elaboration of the roasted veg supper:
Using a mandoline or with a knife and an extreme deftness such as I do not possess, very thinly slice zucchini and yellow summer squash, red onion, eggplant and fennel bulbs. Set out on cookie sheets sprayed with olive oil. Thinly slice several garlic cloves over all, spray with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, thyme or dried basil, and a bit a lavender, if you have some.
Roast at 450F or so, until going crispy. Meanwhile, char, peel, and cut into squares a green pepper, red pepper, or one of each. Arrange veg in baking dish. Pour dressing, or a little balsamic vinegar-a decent tasting super-market type- over the veg. Pour over all, a not-drained 15 oz can of chopped tomatoes (preferably Muir Glen fire-roasted ones, which I buy by the case these days). Sprinkle with a little light brown or demarra sugar. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook about 10 more minutes.
Using a spatula, gently fold the veg over one another to distribute them, but not break them up too much, while adding a few extra glugs of the balsamic. Thinly slice some fresh basil, and sprinkle over. Let this sit around awhile, if you can, after it's cool, for the flavors to migrate a bit. The more balsamic vinegar you add, the more it becomes like a condiment, rather than a vegetable dish. This is good, too-you can put it on a sandwich or something-as you might a chutney. It should not be very wet, however, whichever way you do it, as that spoils it, IMHO.
Use this stuff, if you like it, in any of the myriad ways a person serves ratatouille. It is really nice with a runny poached egg on top , and some toasted rustic-type bread. Or otherwise.