I got my technique for making ratatouille from Tom Colicchio, head curmudgeon from Top Chef, and author of Think Like a Chef. As if I thought any other way.
So tonight, when I made ratatouille without the book, Tom kept up a running commentary:
Me, in the refrigerator: What, this pepper, and these squash and this eggplant . . .
Tom: What is that, a Rosa Bianco eggplant?
Me, over at the table: . . . and these two tomatoes. No, three. No, two. Where's that basil? And also these two little cute eggplants.
Tom: Don't forget garlic!
Me, back in the refrigerator, triumphantly: And these leeks! (with a flourish)
Me: Leeks will be awesome.
So the technique is--and it's a good one, so pay attention--you saute each vegetable individually, with a clove of garlic, minced, in olive oil, with salt and pepper, and a couple of sprigs of of basil at the end. Then, you put the vegetable you've just sauteed into a dish, and do another vegetable, with garlic &c. &c. Tom would also have you wipe out the pan between each vegetable:
Me, after the leeks: Okay, now the squash.
Tom: You're not wiping out the pan?
Me: Now the squash.
. . . because, seriously, the overwhelming fragrance in the dish is garlic, olive oil, and basil. Wiping out the pan so the lingering aroma of, what, squash doesn't contaminate the eggplant? That seems excessively fussy to me.
Tom: Fine, but your eggplant will be redolent of squash. Wait, are you grinding Sichuan peppercorns to season? Sichuan, seriously? In a Mediterranean dish?
Okay, I admit, that was a small heresy, but I had a little grinder full of those peppercorns, and I was full of adventure.
Tom: I give up.
But the thing is, when the eggplant and squash and tomatoes and peppers are at their peak, the whole thing is ambrosial, in a Mediterranean sense, and the every-vegetable-has-its-day technique means you really can taste the flavor of each thing, but symphonically, in relation to every other thing. So I salute Tom: his fussy technique gave us a luscious dinner. Add a soft polenta and there is no dinner better, even with the geographically incorrect peppercorns.