With a burst of fresh summer flavor and a kaleidoscope of color, this campfire skillet ratatouille captures the fun and vibrance of summer camping. It’s a simple dish with an impressive presentation, lots of in-season vegetables, and can be paired with virtually anything on your menu.
One of the things we love most about summer is the super abundance of fresh, in-season produce. Sure, you can find most of these vegetables year round at your local megamart, but everything just tastes so much better in summer! And one of the best dishes to showcase this bounty is ratatouille.
Don’t let it’s highly photogenic presentation fool you–ratatouille is actually a very simple meal, uses basic ingredients, and has a virtually foolproof cooking method. But like many things that appear effortless in life, the devil is in the prep work.
This is a great recipe to practice your knife skills, because it requires a lot of chopping. Nothing fancy, just a lot of thinly sliced rings. But once that’s out of the way, the assembly and cooking is super easy.
Ratatouille is a great meal to make at a campsite because it pairs with some many other things. Serve it over pasta, rice, polenta. Perfect with some grilled chicken or steak, or campfire garlic bread. There are lots of options to choose from!
So what are we waiting for, let’s make campfire skillet ratatouille!
Why We Love It:
- Captures the fresh vibrance of summer. Bright colors, in-season produce, fun and exciting.
- None of the produce “needs” to be refrigerated, freeing up bunch of space in your cooler.
- Show stopper presentation. Very high Instagramablity.
- After all the fussy assembly work is over, it’s a very low maintenance, low and slow meal to actually cook.
- Can be paired with rice, pasta, crusty bread, polenta, grilled meats. Basically, it goes with anything!
Onion: Finely diced small onion, or half of large onion. We didn’t bother to brown it prior to adding the crushed tomatoes, because this recipe is fussy enough without an extra step. They will cook in the sauce just fine. But if you want to lightly saute prior to starting, you are welcome to.
Crushed Tomatoes: This will be the base of your sauce. Crushed San Marzano tomatoes are the best, if you can find them.
Chinese Eggplant: Unlike the dark skinned and bulbous Globe eggplant, the Chinese eggplant has a violet color and long, slender profile (Japanese eggplant will also work). While there isn’t much of a taste difference in this dish, the thinner diameter more closely matches the zucchini and squash.
Zucchini & Yellow Summer Squash: You’re looking for zucchini and squash that have roughly the same diameter. They don’t need to be exactly the same. It will just make assembly easier.
Roma Tomatoes: Roma are widely available, don’t cost a fortune, and, most importantly, has the right dimensions! If you can find the right sized heirloom tomatoes and want to use them instead, then by all means, go for it!
Salt, Pepper, Garlic powder: These are the only three “spices” we used for this dish. We often don’t camp with a full spice rack, so it’s nice to just dial it in to the essentials.
10” Cast Iron Skillet: We used our 10” Lodge cast iron skillet for this recipe, which turned out to be plenty for four servings. Cast iron is what you want to be using over a campfire, as it does a great job retaining the heat and has not plastic components that can melt.
Aluminum Foil (Or Lid): To simulating baking, you will want to cover the skillet while it’s over the fire. If you have a lid (without plastic), you can use that. Otherwise, you can use a small sheet of aluminum foil like we did.
Heat Resistant Gloves: While cast iron is great at retaining heat, it’s not very good at evenly conducting heat. Which means you will want to periodically rotate the skillet to ensure you aren’t developing a hot spot in one place. These heat resistant gloves are fantastic for this. They make moving cast iron and adjusting the grill grate easy and safe.
How to make campfire ratatouille
The first step is to get your campfire or propane grill ready. For a campfire, you’re aiming to be cooking over medium-low heat. Ideally over hot embers of charcoal. So takes steps to get your campfire ready. For more suggestions of how to cook over a campfire, see our article here.
Step one is to finely chop/borderline mince a small onion (or half a large onion). In a lightly oiled cast iron skillet, spread the onion into a even single layer. If you want, you can spend a few minutes browning them slightly over the campfire to coax out their sweetness. Or just skip it. The onions will cook in the sauce.
Next, open your can of crushed tomatoes and spread into an even layer over the onions. Add in 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, a few cracks of pepper, and stir around. Place 4-5 leaves of basil in to the crushed tomatoes.
You’re now ready to start chopping. Using a sharp knife, thinly slice your eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes into rings that are about 1/4″ wide. (A serrated knife is best for the tomatoes).
You can now start assembling your conga-line of produce. Alternating colors and trying to match like-sized slices with like sized-slices, places your veggie slices on edge around the outside of your skillet. Once the outer ring is complete, you can fill in the middle.
In a small bowl or ramekin, add 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 garlic powder, and a few cracks of pepper. Then add 1/4 cup of olive oil. Using a silicone brushed, mix the oil and spices together until combined, and then start brushing the mixture onto your vegetables. Try your best to get in between the slices. Make sure you use all of this mixture.
Now cover the skillet with aluminum foil and place it on the grill grate over the fire. You’re looking for medium low indirect heat, preferably over hot embers. Depending on your specific conditions, the cook time should take roughly an hour. Be sure to keep the fire going off to the side, so you can replenish the embers once they start to die out.
The dish is ready when all the veggies are soft and fork-tender, but not yet mushy. Top with sliced fresh basil and serve!
- 1 small onion, or ½ large
- 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1½ teaspoon sea salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder, divided
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper, divided
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, divided
- 2 zucchinis
- 2 yellow squashes
- 1 Chinese eggplant
- 6 roma tomatoes
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Finely mince the onion. Coat the bottom of a 10" skillet with olive oil, then transfer the onion to the skillet.
- Add the crushed tomatoes + their juices to the skillet, followed by ½ teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of garlic powder, a few cracks of pepper, and stir around. Place 4-5 leaves of basil in to the crushed tomatoes.
- Using a sharp knife, thinly slice your eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes into rings about ¼" thick.
- Assemble the vegetables in the skillet. Alternating colors and trying to match like-sized slices with like sized-slices, places your veggie slices on edge around the outside of your skillet. Once the outer ring is complete, you can fill in the middle.
- In a small bowl or ramekin, add 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, and a few cracks of pepper. Then add ¼ cup of olive oil. Using a silicone brushed, mix the oil and spices together until combined, and brushing the mixture over the vegetables.
- Cover the skillet with a lid or piece of aluminum foil and place it on your campfire grill grate, over medium low indirect heat, preferably over hot embers. Depending on your specific conditions, the cook time should take roughly an hour. Be sure to keep the fire going off to the side, so you can replenish the embers once they start to die out
- The ratatouille is done when the veggies are cooked through and tender, but not mushy. Serve with pasta, rice, bread, or alongside grilled meat. Enjoy!