It took me a good long time (25 years?!?) to realize what a wonderful vegetable eggplant is. Maybe it's partly the American name: eggplant sounds a lot less appetizing to me than aubergine. But even more than that, I think, it is due to the fact that the only dishes I knew that contained eggplant tended to be very slimy. Ratatouille. Moussaka. So when I gradually grew to like eggplant it was in spite of the slime factor. Exposure to home-made ratatouille and really good moussaka made me more receptive and eventually I was interested enough to try Nigel Slater's technique of grilling eggplant slices on a griddle pan (highly recommended). However, through it all I still found that the ratatouille, however well made, is still too much like a slimy sauce for my taste.
So when searching for a new idea for a salad for the 4th of July, I came up with the idea of combining most of the ingredients of ratatouille in a different way. Roasted, to be exact. I like all the individual ingredients, after all - it's just the effect of putting them together in a stew that I don't like.
To tell the truth, the first inkling of this idea came from my colleague, Anne, who told me she had heard that the vegetables in a "true" ratatouille are never stewed together but should be prepared separately and combined just before serving. To take it one step further, I roasted my vegetables and combined them just before serving.
2 small eggplants, cut in large hunks (they will shrink in roasting)
4 small zucchini, also cut in large hunks (ditto)
1/4 cup olive oil
12 cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup feta, crumbled
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
Optional: roasted red and yellow peppers (one of my guests is allergic to peppers so I could not add them) and/or roasted mushrooms, roasted shallots (didn't have any)
Combine the eggplant and zucchini in a roasting pan (or two) and drizzle them with two-thirds of the olive oil. Get messy: use your hands to toss them well so that they are all lightly coated with oil. Drizzle the rest of the oil over the tomatoes in another roasting pan. Sprinkle the thyme over the vegetables. Don't they look pretty?
Put all the pans in a hot oven (200c/390f). The tomatoes will be done in fifteen minutes or less, but the others will need close to an hour. Toss the eggplant and zucchini from time to time and remove when they are tender. Once all the vegetables have cooled down, toss them together and sprinkle with the feta. If it seems a little dry, pour a little of the olive oil/roasted tomato juice over the salad.
Unfortunately, I neglected to take a photo of the finished product. You'll have to trust me when I say that it was very tasty and not slimy. (I did go a little overboard on the feta, though, and have accordingly reduced the amount in the recipe above.)
However below you can admire the roasted tomatoes in all their glory:
Another variation which is lovely involves leaving out the thyme and the feta and adding grated Parmesan and shredded basil leaves before serving!