Ratatouille Gratin

This time of year has juicy tomatoes, sweet zucchini, and almost every herb on the planet overflowing at the farmers market. For those of us on the East Coast, this is a time of frenzy – we have to grab these fresh vegetables while we can! Soon we will be thrown into months of butternut squash and apples with nary an heirloom tomato to be seen! To make the most of the delicious and inexpensive veggies that abound, take a cue from Julia Child. Sure, I switched it up a little – I  used panko instead of plain breadcrumbs, added onions and mushrooms,a nd of course topped it off with goat cheese (because really…what doesn’t goat cheese improve?) But Julia had most of it down pat (like I have any authority to give Julia Child credit), and this is deconstructed ratatouille that showcases the best of summer’s bounty.

Ratatouille Gratin

Ingredients:

1 yellow or green zucchini, cut into rounds

1/2 onion, cut into half moons

3 tomatoes, sliced

1 eggplant, cut into rounds

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

4 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

2 sprigs each rosemary and thyme, chopped

1/2 log goat cheese (plain or flavored)

1. Preheat the oven to 400F and lightly oil the sheet pan with half of the oil. Lay the eggplant over the pan so each disc touches the oil, then flip them over oil side up.

Add the onions and put in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the onions start to brown and the eggplant is slightly shriveled and starts to “melt.” After you take them out, put the heat down to 350F and keep the oven on.

2. When the eggplant has cooled enough to handle, oil the pan with 1 tbsp. of oil, all the way up the sides of the pan. Then, layer in the vegetables.

Tomato, squash, eggplant, onions, mushrooms. Lather, rinse, repeat. Don’t worry if you run out of some vegetables, or have to squeeze some odd rows in there. Just layer it as you can, making sure to squish the veggies in there, since they will shrink as they cook.

3. Sprinkle breadcrumbs, herbs, and remaining olive oil over the casserole, then put it in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are browned and the juices from the veggies are bubbling. If the breadcrumbs start to over toast or refuse to brown, add a bit more olive oil for lubrication.

4. Spoon a serving, top with a dollop of goat cheese and serve immediately.

This is late summer on a plate. Juicy, warm, fresh but also creamy and crunchy. The vegetables all meld together beautifully, each one accenting the other’s flavor while still retaining its own taste. The sweet zucchini, fragrant tomatoes, savory onions, meaty mushrooms, and luscious eggplant come together in a stew/gratin hybrid. Soft in the center, while delightfully crisp and crunchy on top, with sugars caramelizing around the edges of the pan. The fresh herbs are fragrant and woodsy, echoing the creamy, grassy goat cheese. That cheese is a very important part of the dish – it starts to melt as soon as it hits the hot gratin, becoming soft and rich against the vibrant, acidic juices of the tomatoes.

This is delicious served with polenta or as a side to flank steak. So make it while you can, before it’s all you can eat pumpkin for, like, 8 months.