by Marilyn O’Connor

Napa Register

Ratatouille is one of my all-time favorite dishes. Its versatility alone makes it a winner. You can serve it hot, cold or at room temperature. It can be the main attraction or a supporting player. Top it with goat cheese, fold it into an omelet or use it as a bruschetta topping. However you serve it, ratatouille delivers fresh summer flavors. But, of course, the best thing about ratatouille is its deliciousness.

There are many different approaches to cooking this dish. According to “Larousse Gastronomique,” the bible of French cooking, each vegetable should be cooked separately, then combined and cooked slowly until they attain a smooth, creamy consistency. For years, I was loyal to a Julia Child recipe that followed this technique. But slaving all afternoon over a hot stove in the middle of August is not exactly my idea of the joy of cooking.

I later discovered Bobby Flay’s grilled method: cooking each ingredient on the grill, then combining them and finishing the dish with olive oil, salt and pepper. This is a tasty and somewhat easier alternative, but it still takes some time to execute. And standing over a hot Weber isn’t any more enjoyable than a hot stove.

No matter what method you use in making your ratatouille, fresh ingredients are essential. Late summer brings together all the key elements: eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and fresh basil. At this time of year, the Napa Farmers Market is a perfect one-stop shop for this one-pot meal.

The following recipe (adapted from Saveur magazine) requires minimal slicing, dicing and over-the-stovetop time and is now my go-to ratatouille recipe. Sautéing the dried herbs in olive oil at the beginning is a great tip that intensifies the flavor of the dish.

Ratatouille Provençal Style

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

2 large yellow onions, quartered

1 bay leaf

2 medium zucchini (about 1¼ pounds), in 2-inch pieces