Though the crumb is optional in this dish, we love the texture and extra hit of saltines that it lends the finished dish.
* if you don’t have a cast-iron dish, fry the onions in a regular saute pan and transfer them to an oven-safe pie dish for the rest of the recipe.
For the Ratatouille:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large Spanish onion (or 2 regular brown onions) peeled and very thinly sliced
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 star anise
- 1 medium aubergine
- 1 ½ dark green courgettes (zucchini)
- 1 large thin yellow squash
- 4 plum tomatoes
- 60 ml (¼ cup) olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
For Black olive crumb:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 90g (1 cup) plain panko crumbs
- 5 pitted black olives, very finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
To make the Ratatouille:
Heat oven to 180℃ (350℉).
In a cast-iron 23cm (9 inches) heat the two tablespoons of oil, once shimmering, add the thinly sliced onions, pick the leaves from the thyme, add the leaves and the stems as well as the star anise to the pan. Saute the onions over medium heat until the onions are very soft, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the onions and once very soft and starting to brown, turn off the heat. Pick out the thyme stems and discard, pull out the star anise, and reserve.
While the onions fry, prepare the rest of the vegetables.
Slice the eggplant into ½ cm(⅛ inch) rounds. If the diameter of the aubergine (eggplant) is much larger than the other vegetables cut each round in half. Layout the aubergine (eggplant) in a single layer over a cutting board, sprinkle liberally with salt, and let it sit while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.
Slice the courgettes, squash, and tomatoes into similar thickness rounds.
Once everything is sliced, pat the aubergine dry with a paper towel.
Layer the vegetable slices, one of each like playing cards, and pack in as many as you can, alternating colors. Once all the vegetables are crammed into the dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, pour over the 60ml (¼ cup) olive oil, top with the bay leaf, and reserved star anise.
Bake covered with aluminum foil for 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake uncovered for a further 30 minutes.
Discarded bay leaf and Star anise before serving or topping with the crumb.
For the Black olive crumb:
In a saute pan heat the olive oil until shimmering, add the panko crumbs, olives, garlic, and the leaves from one sprig of thyme and fry stirring constantly until the crumbs are golden brown, season well with salt and pepper and store separately from the ratatouille until ready to serve.
The ratatouille and crumb can be made the day ahead, heat the ratatouille gently in the oven or over a hot plate, until just warm, but not steamy. Top with crumb just before serving.