BY RAYMOND BILL
The pandemic has inspired many Americans to change their diet in 2020. With reasons cited including having more time to research healthier food options as well as time to cook and learn new recipes, nearly 50% more people have incorporated plant-based meals into their regular diets. With the increase in vegan products to meet the increasing demand, it has never been easier to make delicious plant-based meals that your friends and family will all enjoy together.
When my kids and I decided to eliminate meat and animal byproducts completely, I was not optimistic that it would be a successful transition. I was certain that even if I could maintain such a disciplined diet, my kids surely would last but a month, at best. Fortunately, this allowed me to explore many ethnic cuisines I had not previously considered. We now enjoy many Asian, Indian, and even French meals that I never thought I would be able to prepare so readily.
In the first weeks of making this transition, I wanted to find meals that would not be so obviously vegan. Whether you are having a vegan guest join for dinner, or you just want to subtly introduce a plant-based meal that is delicious and sustaining, you cannot go wrong with a hearty pasta dish. Usually once per week, I make a ratatouille over pasta or gnocchi and there are never leftovers! It is a great way to add a variety of flavor and color to a dish that can be reinterpreted each time you make it. Here is one of my family’s favorite versions of Ratatouille.
What you will need:
- 2-3 medium sized potatoes
- 2-3 tomatoes
- 1 large zucchini
- 1 large yellow squash
- 1 Chinese eggplant (this thin eggplant is necessary for its elongated shape)
- 1 small yellow onion
- 1 8oz package of mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (but more is always better)
- Olive oil
- Tomato sauce (store-bought is fine or use your favorite recipe)
- Italian herbs (fresh basil and parsley, or from your spice rack)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With a mandolin or by hand, slice potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant into thin circular pieces. It is important that they are all similar in size so that they will cook evenly at the same pace. The onion can be incorporated in slices as well, but I prefer them diced, sauteed, and added to the sauce for the pasta.
Next, lightly brush with tomato sauce two round oven safe pie dishes or one large 13×9 casserole dish (This will prevent vegetables from sticking while adding flavor as they roast in the oven). Now the fun part! Line your selected dish with your pre-sliced vegetables in a repeating pattern until they are filled completely. When using the round pie dishes, vegetables can spiral around to fill the entire dish, or the center can be used for the mushrooms (as pictured).
Brush vegetables with a mixture of olive oil and minced garlic and season with herbs, salt and pepper to your liking before placing them in the preheated oven to roast uncovered for 45 minutes or until vegetables are browning evenly. While they are in the oven prepare your favorite pasta, gnocchi, or grains to accompany your meal. Angel Hair pasta can be made in minutes while rice and grains can take as long as 45 minutes. Finish the pasta with your favorite pasta sauce and serve.
This ratatouille dish is perfect for the beginner, though it does require some prep work. If your teenagers are like mine, they may jump at the opportunity to help in the kitchen. This is also a dish that is versatile so feel free to change it up and make it your own. You can add or remove vegetables and they can also be made on the stove, diced together for a more traditional presentation. Enjoy!