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Livin’ La Cucina Povera with Grilled Ratatouille

Written and Photographed by Christine Galanti

Since it’s wormed its way into my heart and tastebuds, eggplant has made several memorable appearances on my palate.

I’ve enjoyed it sliced into rounds and roasted in savory olive oil, interior silky and exterior golden and toasted at Café Mogador; braised to tenderness in caponata with tomato and onion, seasoned with cinnamon and dressed with capers and pine nuts at Salumi; and fried into rich Afghan bouranee baunjaun at our old neighborhood kabob house, to name a few.

vegetables for ratatouille

Eggplant has become both a summertime and wintertime staple in my kitchen.

In the winter, I roast whole eggplants and squeeze out the flesh to make baba ghanouj with caramelized onions. In the summer, it’s always perfect on the grill.

I even make faux spaghetti from eggplant cut into skinny strips, which works nicely with puttanesca.

A few months ago, I quit my day job and moved to New York City on a freelance writer’s budget. And by “freelance writer,” I mean “starving artist.”

On the surface, NYC appears to be an awful choice for living on the cheap, even temporarily.

But if you spend time discovering any of New York’s neighborhoods, you discover that they are actually full of hidden gems, and some bargain gems.

Where there are large ethnic communities, you can find markets and restaurants priced for locals, not tourists. For a resourceful cook on a budget, it’s actually a great place to be, especially during the summer when produce is fresh, bountiful and cheap.

In Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Young Fruit on Nassau Avenue is my go-to for inexpensive fruits and veggies.

During the peak of the growing season, 99 cents will buy you a pound of a spectrum of fruits and veggies, from apples to pears to green leaf lettuce, and of course, eggplant.

ratatouille

In Italy, the art of making good food using the least expensive, freshest and most seasonally available ingredients is cucina povera.

Literally meaning “poor kitchen,” it sounds much more romantic in Italian. While Italy made the term famous, this concept of cooking exists all over the world, and especially around the Mediterranean.

In Provence, the quintessential end-of-summer dish is ratatouille. Immortalized by the animated film of the same name, ratatouille is an aromatic stew that makes use of seasonally-plentiful eggplant, pepper, tomato, zucchini, squash, and fresh herbs.

Classic versions of the dish from Julia Child and Jacques Pepin involve a multi-step simmering process, which is rather time-consuming.

Grilling over charcoal (or in a stovetop grill pan) makes cooking vegetables way more fun. And it’s a good excuse to start a fire.

salting eggplant

Note: Eggplant (like cauliflower) is packed with water, which is why it’s so dense. The key is to salt the eggplant it while it’s raw, so the flesh releases excess moisture.

ratatouille

Grilled Ratatouille

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Love the veggie-packed taste of ratatouille but don't feel like turning on the oven? Try grilled ratatouille for a twist on the classic.

Ingredients

  • 4 Japanese eggplant or 2 regular eggplant
  • 3 bell peppers of any color
  • 1 large or 2 small zucchini
  • 1 large or 2 small yellow squash
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • kosher or sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large heirloom tomato
  • fresh parsley, basil, thyme, or oregano, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, Champagne vinegar or seasoned vinegar

Instructions

  1. Slice eggplant lengthwise into quarters (or planks, if using regular eggplant). Do not halve quartered veggies horizontally; they will be easier to grill if they're long.
  2. Sprinkle eggplant liberally with salt and arrange in a colander to drain for 20 minutes.
  3. While the eggplant drains, preheat a charcoal or gas grill for indirect cooking with hot and cool zones.
  4. Slice the zucchini and squash lengthwise into quarters, discarding tops.
  5. De-rib and de-seed the peppers and cut each into three or four rectangular planks.
  6. Slice the onion crosswise into 1/2-inch thick rounds and thread diametrically onto a skewer.
  7. Rinse salt thoroughly from the drained eggplant and pat dry.
  8. Brush the vegetables lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  9. Place the vegetables on the hot side of the grill and cook, turning once when they start to blacken.
  10. Move to the cool side of the grill and cook until tender.
  11. Once cooled, peel and discard pepper skins.
  12. Chop the tomato and cooked veggies into bite-size pieces.
  13. Toss with the remaining olive oil, herbs and vinegar. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 394Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 166mgCarbohydrates: 66gFiber: 18gSugar: 28gProtein: 8g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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9 Comments

  1. I love this dish! It is one of those dishes where the sum is greater than the parts. If you add wood chips to the grill, it gets even better.

  2. That’s a great idea, Amy. I would see your grilled corn and raise you some avocado stirred in.

  3. I’m excited to see this post…I make ratatouille often, but have never ever grilled to prepare it. This sounds really good.

  4. We grill veggies all summer long. They go with almost any grill dish, although grilled egplant with a little parm cheese on it is delightful

  5. I’ve been grilling squashes and peppers lately, but hadn’t remembered eggplant. thanks for the reminder.

    I am surpised and encouraged at the veg prices available in NYC neighborhoods, too.

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