Way before any children, vegetarian or carnivore, I was cooking some splendid vegetarian dishes. One of the first--or at least one of the most ambitious was ratatouille. For years, I closely followed the instructions of Julia Child. She, who could often be so casual, admonished (at least in my memory) that the dish was improved immeasurably by preparing each ingredient separately. During the year we lived in Paris, around the corner from the splendid market on the Rue Mouffetard, I felt compelled to follow her every instruction.
Although I eventually slacked off, I have such excellent memories of those Parisian dishes, this is only u a slight variation on that first inspiration.
If you have the time and inclination you should give it a try:
Peel one eggplant (or two smaller ones--you want a pound--figure it out while shopping--and remember it as long as you can). Cut into long slices (not rounds) about 3 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 3/8 inch thick. Cut one pound of zucchini into pieces more or less the same size. Put the vegetables in a colander, toss with a teaspoon of salt. Drain for about half an hour.
Heat about four tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Dry the eggplant and zucchini and without crowding (you'll probably have to do several batches) sauté about a minute on each side until lightly browned. Remove to another dish.
In the same pan, add more oil of necessary, and cook about 1 1/2 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions (about 1/2 pound), 2 thinly sliced green peppers for about ten minutes. Add two to four cloves mashed garlic and salt and pepper.
Peel, seed and juice one pound firm, ripe, red tomatoes as follows:
Drop tomatoes one or two at a time in boiling water to cover, and boil for EXACTLY 10 seconds. Remove. Cut out the stem. Peel off the skin starting from the stem hole.
Cut tomatoes in half crosswise--not through the stem. Squeeze each half gently to extract the seeds and juices. Then slice into 3/8 inch strips.
Lay the strips over the onion and pepper mixture. Season with salt and pepper, cover the skillet and cook over low heat for about five minutes.
Place a third of this tomato mixture in the bottom of a 2 1/2 quart casserole. Sprinkle one tablespoon of parsley over it. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then half the remaining tomatoes, another tablespoon of parsley. Put in the rest of the eggplant and zucchini and the last of the tomatoes and parsley.
Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for about ten minutes. Uncover, tip and baste with the rendered juices. Raise heat slightly and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes more--continuing to baste, making sure it's not too hot--and not scorching on the bottom.
Set aside. Reheat slowly to serve or eat cold.