Roasted North African Ratatouille Over Freekeh

Roasted North African Ratatouille Over Freekeh

First off, apologies for letting a full month go by without a new recipe. I’ve been in a bit of a post-publication funk, struggling with my expectations of life as a glamorous cookbook author (glamour? seriously, I thought there might be glamour?) vs. the mundane reality (here I am at my desk, still in my pajamas at noon, just like before*). But we’re heading off to Maine, followed by what should theoretically be a fun-filled-yet-relaxing staycation with Harry until school starts. Three weeks of distraction, I hope, will adjust my attitude.

In the meanwhile, here’s a new twist on an old favorite, ratatouille. (By my count this is version four, after Slow Cooker Ratatouille, Quick Ratatouille, and the Roasted Ratatouille with Crispy Quinoa Cakes in my cookbook.) Inspired by a package of freekeh—smoked green wheat—that I picked up at Kalyustan’s, I’ve borrowed flavors from North Africa: Aleppo pepper, preserved lemon, olives, and mint. And it’s roasted for maximum ease.

If you don’t have those particular ingredients, it’s still a pretty fantastic way to make ratatouille on a weeknight—skip them and swap fresh basil for the mint, then serve with crusty bread, pasta, or whatever floats your boat.

Roasted North African Ratatouille Over Freekeh
Serves 4

Notes: If you don’t have freekeh, this will work just as well with farro or brown rice. If you’d like to add protein to the mix, toss in a can of rinsed and drained chickpeas after 20 minutes in step 2. And taste your Aleppo pepper before using—the heat can vary considerably. Mine was much milder than I expected, so I used the full amount listed below.

1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups freekeh
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 pound fairy tale eggplant, trimmed and halved lengthwise (or 1 medium globe eggplant, cubed)
2 small zucchini, cut into 1/2” chunks
2 large tomatoes, halved, seeded, and cut into chunks
12 kalamata or other brine-cured olives, pitted
2 sprigs thyme
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon (seed and rinse before chopping)
Small handful fresh mint, chopped

Preheat oven to 475°F.

  1. In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the broth, water, and a bit of salt (more if your broth is sodium-free). Add freekeh, lower heat, cover, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until tender but still chewy. Drain and reserve the extra liquid. Return freekeh to pot, cover, and set aside.
  2. While the freekeh simmers, make the ratatouille: In a 9 x 13 baking dish, gently stir together the vegetables, olives, thyme, Aleppo pepper, and olive oil, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast for 20 minutes, then stir. If it seems dry, add a generous splash of the reserved freekeh-cooking water. Roast another 5 to 10 minutes, until vegetables are meltingly soft and dish is juicy.
  3. Remove thyme stems, and stir in the preserved lemon and mint. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve atop freekeh.

MAKE BABY FOOD: If your baby’s just starting, reserve some raw zucchini, toss with oil, and roast separately. When it’s fully softened, puree. Once he’s eating combination purees, the ratatouille-freekeh combo should be perfect (leave out the olives and preserved lemons from his portion, and go easy on the Aleppo). And I don’t have to tell you how great this’ll be as finger food.

* Biggest difference between life pre- and post-book: Instead of just blogging here, these days I’m spilling my guts in three different places. Did somebody say “glamorous”?