The first time I cooked ratatouille was on August 20, 2005. Do you want to know how I remember that date? Well, it was my son’s and brother’s birthdays. But that’s not how. It’s not because of my sharp memory either–I lost that sometime between kid number two and kid number three. I remembered that date because it was jotted down next to the recipe’s ingredient list. I scribble all over the pages of my cookbooks and recipes. My notes helps me remember if I liked a particular dish and if I made any changes to it. It’s also a fun way to trace the recipe back to a particular occasion, since I tend to comment on that as well (like if I had made this ratatouille for my son’s or brother’s birthday dinner, which I apparently did not). Anyway, that recipe was straight out of Chef John Folse’s Plantation Celebrations cookbook, a wonderful collection of stories and family recipes from Louisiana’s plantation kitchens. One of the many things I like about that cookbook is each page includes several blank lines for “changes.” Isn’t that cool? A renowned chef inviting you to personalize his recipes. What a class act!
Of course, I didn’t hesitate to add my own two cents to Chef Folse’s “Cajunized” version of this classic Mediterranean vegetable casserole. For some kick, I replaced the smoked sausage with andouille and added sliced mushrooms. I also roasted the eggplant first because I prefer the creamier texture and slightly smoky flavor you get when you prepare it this way–sure beats the spongy bitterness that sauteing can sometimes leave behind. Stuffing jumbo pasta shells with my last batch of ratatouille and topping everything with cheese was a spur-of-the-moment decision that paid off. Now, I can’t see eating my Andouille Ratatouille any other way.
This recipe makes enough ratatouille to generously stuff 32 jumbo shells. One 12-ounce box of pasta contains around 40 shells. I cook the whole box, because I inevitably tear a few. And unless I’m preparing this recipe for company, I’ll serve half of it (16 stuffed shells) for dinner and prepare and freeze the rest.
Andouille Ratatouille Stuffed Shells Recipe
1 12-ounce box jumbo pasta shells
1 large eggplant
1 pound andouille sausage, diced
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 zucchini, diced
4 yellow squash, diced
1 8-ounce package sliced mushrooms
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon dried sweet basil leaves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter, diced
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
FOR PASTA: Line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper; set aside. Cook pasta shells according to package directions until al dente; drain. Transfer shells to prepared baking sheet (make sure shells don’t touch each other or they may tear).FOR ANDOUILLE RATATOUILLE: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place whole eggplant on a second baking sheet or in a shallow baking dish lined with parchment paper. Pierce eggplant all over with a fork. Roast eggplant until very tender (when done, the eggplant will collapse and the bottom will turn dark brown), about 25-30 minutes. Keep oven preheated. Once eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise and scoop flesh onto a chopping board. Chop and set aside. Coat a large saute pan with cooking spray and place over medium-high heat. Add andouille; saute until brown on all sides. Remove andouille to paper towel-lined plate. Add onions, celery and garlic to pan; saute until tender, 4-6 minutes. Add eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and black olives. Return andouille to pan. Stir to combine. Partially cover pan; saute 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomato sauce and next five ingredients; season to taste with salt and black pepper. Continue cooking an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
ASSEMBLY: Coat two 13x9x2-inch baking dishes with cooking spray. Fill pasta shells with ratatouille. Place filled shells, side by side, in baking dish (each dish should fit 16 stuffed shells). Spoon remaining ratatouille over shells. Top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Dot with butter. Sprinkle with parsley flakes.
BAKE: Cover tightly with foil; bake 20 minutes. Remove foil; bake until top is golden brown, about 5 additional minutes. Allow stuffed shells to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serves 8-10.
DO-AHEAD TIPS: The Andouille Ratatouille can be prepared, covered and refrigerated up to two days ahead of time. The entire dish can be made through the assembly stage and frozen for up to 1 month in a freezer-proof and oven-proof dish that has been covered tightly with plastic wrap. Frozen shells can go directly into a preheated 400 degree oven and baked as directed above–just make sure to remove the plastic wrap!