Some of the most beloved modern dishes hold surprisingly "plebeian" roots. Lobster, for instance, was often served as prison food, used as fertilizer or as fish bait. That was until the American rail system took off and trains began serving canned lobster as an exotic food to unknowing customers as it was inexpensive and easy to store and transport. Demand went up along with price and when World War II hit, lobster was one of the few un-rationed foods and all classes began eating it enthusiastically. French culinary history is filled with stories of dishes rising from the deemed "lower ranks" of peasants before infiltrating higher class systems.
Ratatouille is one of such dishes. While the true origins are debated and probably reach back to the 1600's, potentially from the Basque region, the modern version of this provencal French vegetable stew originated in Nice in the late 18th century and is named after the French word ratouiller and touiller, which means "to stir up." This dish is quite simply a coarse stew of sautéed tomatoes and garlic with onions, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers with herbs de provence such as thyme, basil, oregano and bay leaf.
Farmers made the dish in late summer when vegetables were abundant. Ratatouille slowly made its way into common cooking due to the availability of the ingredients and the fact that it could be served hot or cold. Today, the dish has become part of the French culinary canon and is considered an easy and healthy comfort food by many.
My "Ratatouille Tower" takes on the classic French dish and imbues it with even more ease and health-consciousness. With traditional ratatouille, the vegetables are cooked separately in oil before they are combined and cooked further, which can be an arduous process for such a simple dish. In my adaptation, however, the vegetables are simply sliced and stacked with a little garlicky tomato sauce as glue. No hovering over a hot stove or overly hot carcinogenic-inducing oils required.
This dish is perfect to serve at a cocktail party, apéro, with brunch, or as an aesthetic vegetable side dish at a dinner party.
Eggplant, 2 small or 1 large
Yellow squash (or zucchini), 3
Sweet potato, 1-2
Tomato sauce, 1/2 cup
*Use vegetables that are about the same thickness so towers retain uniformity
Preheat oven to 350ºF/180ºC
Thinly slice all vegetables.
Grease backing dish with oil (coconut, olive, grapeseed etc.) and stack vegetables, alternating and adding a dollop of tomato sauce in between each slice to hold the tower together.
Add S+P according to taste.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until vegetables are soft and cooked through.