Summer Ratatouille and Polenta

Words by Lisa Ahier

When my mom would make this back in the ’70s, I thought it was the most exotic dish imaginable. Even the word in my mouth—rat-a-too-ee—tasted delicious. Mom—who was, in my mind, the best cook ever—would cut up all the vegetables, toss them together and throw it all in a CorningWare dish (remember those? I still have a few tucked away) to bake. Nothing to it. For my recipe, I sauté the ingredients first, but either way works. I also like to use mushrooms, which is not traditional, and a creamy, soft, silky polenta. I adore the rich ragu of vegetables on top.


1 cup milk

1 tsp salt

½ cup coarse-ground yellow cornmeal

¼ cup butter, cubed

¼ cup grated asiago cheese


½ cup olive oil, divided

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

½ onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 small eggplant, diced

1 yellow squash, diced

1 zucchini, diced

3 tsp salt, divided

1 portobello mushroom, diced

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried marjoram

1 large tomato, diced

¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

8 to 10 leaves fresh basil, for garnish

¼ cup shaved hard aged cheese, like parmesan, pecorino, asiago or romano, for garnish

How to Make

Prepare the polenta: Heat the oven to 325°F. In a medium ovenproof saucepan over medium heat, add 1 cup water, the milk and salt. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid the milk bubbling up and spilling over the sides. If it gets too hot, the milk scalds and will lose its natural sweetness.

Test the milk with a deep-fry thermometer. When it is 155°F (I call this the latte stage), slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Continue to whisk until a few bubbles appear. (I call this the volcanic stage.)

Cover and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove and stir with a wooden spoon, then return to the oven and continue to bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir in the butter and cheese and serve as soon as possible. It sets up and hardens quite quickly.

Meanwhile, cook the ratatouille: Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over high heat. As soon as it’s hot, add the garlic, bay leaf and onions. Sweat down for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the peppers, eggplant, yellow squash and zucchini and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Season with 1 tsp of the salt. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside.

Return the pan to the stovetop, again over high heat, and add the remaining ¼ cup oil. Once it’s hot, add the portobello and cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Season with 1 tsp salt.

Return the vegetables to the pan and add the dried herbs. Turn the heat to low, add the tomatoes and remaining 1 tsp salt and use a wooden spoon to gently stir. Let the mixture simmer for a couple of minutes.

To serve: Dish out the hot polenta onto a serving plate, scoop the ratatouille on top and garnish with the fresh herbs and cheese.

Serves 6.


Wine Pairing

And wine not pair it with a delicious red…

Castello di Ama Chianti Classico, $38

Polenta is associated with Northern Italy, the land of barolo and barbaresco, but both might overwhelm the summer veg… so instead, we’ll head down the boot to Tuscany, where a well-made chianti classico (avoid the more powerful gran selezione) will have plenty of acid to cut the richness of the polenta, but nice tart fruit to cradle the squash and eggplant. This bottle will work like a charm right now, but could easily sit in your cellar for a decade as well. — Neal McLennan, Wine Editor 


Recipe from Together at SoBo available on bookshelves now.

This recipe was originally published in the May/June 2023 print issue of Western Livingfind the digital issue here.