Ratatouille is a classic French vegetable stew with origins in the city of Nice located in the Provencal region of southern France. It almost always contains a savory mélange of garlic, onions, eggplant, peppers and zucchini, which are first sautéed in olive oil and then simmered together with tomatoes and an aromatic blend of Provencal herbs. Ratatouille is a versatile dish that can be served as a side with chicken, beef, or fish. It also makes a scrumptious pasta sauce or filling for omelets and crepes. For Valentine’s Day, I like to kick it up a culinary notch and make a ratatouille tarte. The ratatouille is placed in a tarte or pie shell, sprinkled with some cheeses and baked until bubbly and golden. Garnished with a red pepper heart and paired with a salad, ratatouille tarte is an elegant and comforting meal fit for a Valentine.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. The ready-made pie crusts come ready to use in 9” pie shells, or ready to roll and place in a 9” tarte pan or pie plate. In either case, you will need to partially bake the pie shells. Cover them with aluminum foil and place pie weights, dried beans or rice on top of the aluminum foil to keep the pie shells from bubbling up. Place the pie shells in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the pie weights and aluminum foil and put back in the oven, uncovered for 5 to 15 minutes until lightly golden.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or casserole pan and sauté
the onions, garlic, green, red and yellow peppers for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are softened but not browned.
In a large skillet, heat 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, then add the eggplant and cook until lightly browned and softened.
In another large skillet, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and add the zucchini. Cook until lightly browned and softened.
Add the eggplant and zucchini to the vegetables in the Dutch oven. Add the herbes de Provence, salt and pepper to taste and the diced tomatoes along with their juice. Mix all ingredients well and cook over low heat for about 25 minutes, until the mixture has thickened.
Place the ratatouille in a large sieve over a large bowl and allow any excess liquid to drip into the bowl.
Sprinkle 1/2 of the grated cheeses on the bottom of the partially baked pie shells, then fill the shells with the ratatouille. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheeses on top of the ratatouille.
Place the tartes into the preheated 350-degree oven. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown.
Each tarte serves 4 to 6.