If every new year you resolve to eat more vegetables and use your slow cooker more, this dish has you covered. After all those cookies and treats over the holidays—not to mention the lingering morsels that keep “giving,” even without a resolution, veggies are sounding especially good right about now. With the cold weather on top of all this, delicious ratatouille—a French Provençal stewed vegetable dish—is just the ticket. Cookbook author and slow cooker expert Judith Finlayson shared this ratatouille dish with Real Food, and by using a slow roaster to cook it, not only do the flavors of the vegetables intensify, but the recipe becomes convenient to make even if you’re in the busy season.
Finlayson says she almost always takes the extra step of softening vegetables in a little oil (and browning any meat in non-vegetarian recipes) before adding them to the slow cooker. This process, known as caramelization, breaks down the natural sugars in food, creating flavor and enriching the taste of the final dish. Although it only takes a short time, it may not be something you want to be doing in the midst of the morning rush. That’s why the recipe can be partially prepared ahead of time and refrigerated overnight. (Meat, however cannot be browned in advance because partially cooked meat has not reached a temperature that inhibits bacterial growth.) When you are ready to cook, simply assemble the prepped ingredients and turn on the slow cooker. No peeking, though! Avoid lifting the slow cooker lid while your dish is cooking as it will release heat, which may slow down the cooking process and extend the cooking time needed.
This rendition of the classic Provençal dish is vegan-friendly served alongside roasted squash, hot orzo or a bowl of steaming rice. Or, it can also be used as a hearty side to accompany grilled meat or fish, like the salmon pictured above.
Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille
Makes 8 servings
1⁄4 cup olive oil, divided
2 bell peppers
2 quartered onions
2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise
2 small eggplant, quartered lengthwise
1 bulb garlic, separated and unpeeled
1 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper
1. Lightly grease 2 rimmed baking sheets. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Place 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add peppers, toss to coat and transfer to a sheet. Toss onion, zucchini and eggplant in oil and add to sheet (they will fit tightly). Roast 30 minutes, turning once or twice, until tender and lightly browned. Remove from oven. Transfer peppers to a bowl, cover, and set aside to sweat.
3. Meanwhile, add remaining oil to bowl. Add garlic and mushrooms, and toss to coat. Place mushrooms on second sheet, stem side down. Arrange garlic over sheet. Roast 20 minutes, until mushrooms are shriveled and brown on bottom and garlic is lightly browned. Remove from oven. Add zucchini to covered bowl with peppers and refrigerate.
4. When cool enough to handle, cut eggplant crosswise into thirds and add to slow cooker. Squeeze garlic out of cloves and add to slow cooker. Add mushrooms, onion, tomatoes and thyme, and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low 6 hours or on high 3 hours, until hot and bubbly.
5. Meanwhile, when peppers are thoroughly chilled, remove skin and cut into thin strips. Cut zucchini crosswise into thirds. Add to slow cooker, along with any accumulated juices, and cook on high 15 minutes, until zucchini is heated through.
Cook’s Notes: The vegetables can be roasted the night before and refrigerated. When ready to cook, add to the slow cooker with the tomatoes and thyme.
The peppers are very easy to peel when refrigerated overnight. Both peppers and zucchini do not stand up to long cooking, which is why they are added at the end of the recipe.
If you prefer, substitute plain diced canned tomatoes for the fire-roasted. Their flavor will be less intense, but the results will be equally delicious.
Nutrition info Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille (per serving): CALORIES 152 (65 from fat); FAT 7g (sat. 1g); CHOL 0mg; SODIUM 248mg; CARB 20g; FIBER 7g; PROTEIN 5g