Near the end of summer, I make a big batch of ratatouille. I have long been partial to Julia Child’s method of cooking each vegetable separately, and then finally combining them all to simmer together briefly. I love how clearly you taste the eggplant, zucchini and peppers, but this method is so time-consuming that usually I make ratatouille only once, waiting until local tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables are at their best.
Friends who love using their slow cookers for all kinds of dishes recently convinced me to give this method a try. I was doubtful about the result since crockpot cooking, stewing everything together for an extended time, is the polar opposite of Julia’s method. I chose to make an off-beat ratatouille including green beans, carrots and chickpeas, along with frozen pearl onions since they hold together better than chopped onion.
To make this a complete meal, I spooned a layer of whole-grain millet over the vegetables and chickpeas. The result is a bit like couscous turned upside down since the millet sits on top of the vegetables rather than being cooked underneath them. Mellow tasting and not mushy, it surpassed my expectations. So although slow cookers take up a fair amount of counter space, I will enjoy using mine to make riffs on ratatouille using eggplant and other summer vegetables. Then I’ll move on to using it in a winter mode.
Note that if you have a slow cooker that browns or sautés, use that mode to brown the eggplant, sauté the other vegetables and bring the ratatouille to a simmer rather than doing this in a skillet and then transferring it to your slow cooker.
Slow Cooker Ratatouille with Millet
1 cup millet
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb. eggplant, cut into 1 1/4-inch cubes, about 6 cups
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces, 1 1/2 cups
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
2 cups frozen chickpeas or 1 can (15.5 oz.) rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups frozen pearl onions
4 oz. fresh green beans, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp. salt
In medium saucepan, combine millet with 2 cups water. Cover and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until millet is almost soft but slightly al dente, about 20 minutes. Set millet aside, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork, mix in Parmesan cheese and season to taste with pepper.
While millet cooks, make ratatouille. In large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Arrange eggplant in 1 layer and cook until cubes are lightly colored on bottom, 4 minutes. Using tongs, turn and color on second side, 3 minutes. If desired, turn and cook eggplant on a third side for 2 minutes. Transfer browned eggplant to 6-quart slow cooker. If any eggplant is stuck to skillet, scrape and discard it.
Heat remaining oil in skillet. Add red peppers and carrots and cook, stirring often, until peppers look bright red and just start to soften, 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, pearl onions, green beans, garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture simmers, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to 6-quart slow cooker. Season with salt and generous amount of pepper.
Spoon millet over vegetable mixture in even layer. Cover slow cooker. Set it to cook on High for 6 hours, until vegetables are tender but not mushy. If desired, turn slow cooker setting to Warm and let Ratatouille with Millet sit for up to 3 hours before serving. Or let them cool, uncovered, in liner of slow cooker, then cover and refrigerate overnight. To reheat, cover and place Ratatouille with Millet in slow cooker on Low for 3 to 4 hours.
Makes 8 servings.
Per serving: 290 calories, 9 g total fat (2 g saturated fat), 43 g carbohydrate, 11 g protein, 10 g dietary fiber, 193 mg sodium.