The great Provencal vegetable mélange (based on bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and garlic) is prepared in hundreds of ways. The simplest method involves throwing all of the vegetables into a large pot and cooking them together. More refined methods involve the separate cooking of each vegetable and a brief commingling at the end. Then there's the question of cooking time: short, for maximum distinctness of each vegetable; or long for maximum development of flavor? We like 'em both. But the following recipe, our favorite, is long on time, and sacrifices the greater good of communal depth.
We like to serve this lusty, burnished ratatouille at room temperature as a first course, or as part of a Southern French first-course array that includes olives, cheese, anchovies, and crusty bread. You could serve it warm as a side dish or, like many modern chefs, use it for sandwiches, omelets, salads, and pizza and as a base for grilled fish. Its uses are endless. Serves 10 as a first course or side dish.