Roasted Ratatouille SoupPosted: 26 September 2011
I guess it’s officially fall when I have a fridge full of veggies and instead of chopping them into a salad, I’m pulling out my stock pot. I love soup, so I guess I have to embrace the seasonal change for what it is. A chance to make a lot of different soups and put some twists into old favorites.
Strictly speaking, Ratatouille is not a soup per se. It’s generally sauteed vegetables covered in a tomato sauce. It’s cooked slowly and the sauce is not canned tomato sauce, but the sauce from roasted or sauteed tomatoes. The dish is often baked after the veggies are sauteed and it’s sometimes a filling or topping on rice, pasta or bread. Delicious, absolutely. But I was looking for something that stood on its own, perhaps with a hearty broth. To be completely honest, I had been itching to get my stock pot out and this was the perfect opportunity.
Ratatouille is a peasant dish that food snobs often argue about. What’s the right way to serve it, make it, eat it. What are the ingredients and how must you prepare it? Everyone from Julia Child to Wikipedia has an opinion on Ratatouille. The beauty of a peasant dish is that, in all likelihood, there is no wrong way to make it. Undoubtedly this dish evolved with the realization that summer and fall harvest veggies could be cooked together to make a very hearty meal for very little money. It was true in the 18th century and it’s still true today. I doubt very much that any two Ratatouille dishes are the same. I would guess though, that they’re all really yummy.
Ratatouille generally consists of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, onion, bell peppers, carrots, garlic and herbs. I had the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onion and garlic, but no zucchini. I had stuffed it earlier in the week and hadn’t replaced it yet. I did have potatoes though, so I swapped those two items. Although zucchini would have been delicious too, the pot was so full of delicious food it didn’t really matter.
I decided before I started cooking that what I really wanted was a roasted veggie soup. Too often vegetable soups are just plain broth with lots of veggies cooked in boiling broth. This can be delicious but it can also get old. Vegetables take on a completely different and delicious flavor when they’re roasted. The skins get crisp and a little charred. The insides are sweet and there’s a smoky flavor that you can’t get without high temperatures. And potatoes are always best when they have a bit of brown on them. So instead of just dumping everything into broth, I started by roasting bell peppers and onions. I cooked the potatoes in butter and olive oil over medium-high heat right in the stock pot. I roasted the tomatoes. I cooked the potatoes and eggplant in chicken broth and eventually added in the roasted vegetables. I added a healthy dose of garlic and a few shakes of smoked paprika and let it all boil into a warm, savory soup.
I burned my tongue tasting it. I added some aged cheddar, thinly sliced to the top. I buttered some bread. I burned my tongue again. Senor grew impatient waiting for it to cool and had to add an ice cube. I added an ice cube too. It was too good to wait. No one complained of being cold even though it was only 50 degrees outside.
1 large eggplant, cubed
2-3 pounds small potatoes, quartered
4 tomatoes, cut into pieces
1-2 onions, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
Garlic, sea salt, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika
Chop peppers and onions into small slices. Place on a foil-lined tray and roast at 450º for 15-20 minutes.
While the peppers and onions are roasting, add one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil to a stock pot and heat over medium-high heat. Chop the potatoes into quarters and dump into the pot as you go. Use small potatoes or, if you only have large ones, chop them into pieces small enough for a spoon. Stir the potatoes every few minutes to prevent burning. Partially cover the pot with the lid to help the potatoes soften. Be careful not to drip any steam condensation into the pot or you will get splattered with hot oil.
Chop the eggplant into large cubes. Toss with sea salt and let stand in a strainer. Toss occasionally. Before adding to the pot, rinse well with cold water.
When the potatoes are well-browned, add the eggplant and chicken stock. Turn the heat medium and cover. Stir occasionally.
When the peppers and onions are slightly roasted with black char marks and slightly wrinkled skin, remove and set aside. Add four chopped tomatoes to the oven/toaster oven and continue roasting.
Once the eggplant has softened and the broth starts to thicken, add the peppers and onions. Add the tomatoes once they are roasted. They don’t have to be completely done, a slight roast throughout will do.
Stir the entire pot and add generous portion of garlic, either fresh or powdered to the pot. Add sea salt slowly. Be sure to let it dissolve and give the broth a taste to see whether more is needed. Add about a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a small pinch of crushed red pepper. Let the entire pot simmer for ten minutes.
Taste the broth one more time and adjust seasoning as needed. Spoon up each bowlful and let sit at least ten minutes before eating. Top with cheese and serve with bread if desired.