Ratatouille with Creamy Polenta

No matter what the temperature outside, ratatouille is a comforting classic. Delicious hot or cold, dressed up or down, you can't beat its simplistic flavor. In the colder months, I like to serve it over creamy polenta with plenty of red wine.

In this version, I've added mild Great Northern beans for extra protein, fiber, minerals, thiamin and folate. I've also kept it rustic (no need to fuss about perfectly cut veggies!) and easy ~ a deliciously satisfying meal you can throw together any night of the week.

[Camera shy: green olives]

Traditionally, ratatouille is made with onions, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, often fried and then stewed. I prefer to skip the frying and copious amounts of oil without sacrificing flavor. My winter version is likely to include meaty mushrooms as well. Not a fan of mushrooms? Leave them out! Left-over ratatouille makes a perfect lunch and will also freeze well for 3-4 months ~ this makes it an excellent dish to add to your prep day.

Total Time: 25-40 minutes Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 15-30 minutes

Here's what you will need for 6 generous servings: PRINT HERE

For the Ratatouille:

1 can diced tomatoes, 28 oz (fire-roasted or regular)

1 can crushed tomatoes, 15 oz

1 can Great Northern beans, low sodium, 15 oz, drained and rinsed

1.5 cups red wine (summoning my inner Julia Child when I say, "If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it!")

1 cup onion, medium dice (about 1 large)

4 cloves garlic, large, chopped

4 cups cubed (unpeeled) eggplant (about 2 medium)

2 cups baby bella mushrooms, quartered (about 1 pkg)

2 cups sweet bell peppers, any color, medium dice (about 2 med/large)

1.5 cups zucchini, medium dice (2-3 small/med)

1.5 cups summer squash, medium dice (2 medium)

1/2 cup green or Kalamata olives, roughly chopped

1 tsp fennel seed (optional)

1 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn just before adding

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

For the Creamy Polenta:

4 cups nut milk (I use cashew)*

1/2 cup water

1 tsp sea salt (optional)

1 cup polenta or cornmeal** (I use course, stone-ground)

1/2 cup fortified nutritional yeast***

1/4 cup non-dairy butter (I use Earth Balance)

* For an even creamier polenta, use 1 (15 oz) can full-fat coconut milk in place of an equal portion of nut milk.

** When you buy cornmeal, corn flour, grits or polenta, make sure the label reads "whole corn" or "whole grain corn" and not "degermed corn". Degermed corn does not include the nutritious germ and is not a whole grain. The germ is removed to increase the shelf life of the cornmeal.

*** Fortified nutritional yeast is a good source of B vitamins, including vitamin B12. Not all brands of nutritional yeast are fortified, so check the label carefully. It also adds flavor, color and body.

The Process:

1. All of the vegetables can be prepped in advance (up to several days) except the eggplant, which will oxidize and discolor. A note about the eggplant: there is no need to peel eggplant for this dish. The skins contain fiber, anthocyanins, potassium and magnesium. With the skins, eggplant does require a little additional cooking time.

2. Heat a dry Dutch oven over medium heat until hot. Add the diced onions, spread evenly over the bottom of the pot and leave them to sweat without stirring. Once they begin to soften and show some color (darker on bottom and around edges 3-4 minutes), add the garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. [It is possible to make this dish without using oil!]

3. Next, add the mushrooms and fennel seed. Stir occasionally as the mushrooms begin to sweat. Once they start to release water (4-5 minutes), add the peppers. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.

4. Next, add the zucchini, summer squash, diced and crushed tomatoes, pepper and red wine. When this begins to simmer, reduce the heat to low. While this cooks, make the polenta.

If you've never made polenta, it's just as easy as making cream of wheat or grits.

Either follow the directions on your package or:

5. In a large pot, over med/high heat, bring the nut milk, water and salt just to a boil.

6. Gradually, whisk in the corn meal (a heavy whisk is champion here). Reduce the heat to med/low and cook until creamy and tender, stirring frequently (about 15-30 minutes depending on which type of cornmeal used). As the mixture begins to thicken, stir more frequently to avoid sticking and scorching. Add additional nut milk or water if needed.

7. Remove from heat and stir in non-dairy butter and nutritional yeast. Cover the pot to keep warm.

8. Check the ratatouille for doneness, particularly the eggplant. The veg should be tender, but not mushy. Add the beans and olives, stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.

9. To serve, spread a layer of creamy polenta onto individual plates, bowls or a community serving platter. Top with ratatouille and finish with torn fresh basil. Enjoy!

Nutrition information is for 1 cup of polenta and 2 cups of ratatouille.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to hear how you and your family or guests liked it! Snap a photo and tag me too, #chefcatherinebrown. I love seeing what you make!

DISCLOSURES: None. This post was not created in affiliation with any product or brand. The opinions expressed are my own. I will only write about products I use and trust.

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CatherineeBrown@hotmail.com  603-237-1012  PO Box 253 Errol, NH 03579