In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, bring 3 Tbsp of olive oil to nearly smoking. Add the eggplant while stirring to prevent sticking and scorching. Continue cooking until the eggplant is golden brown. Remove from the pot and allow to drain on paper towels; season immediately with salt and pepper. Reserve.
Return the same pot to medium-high heat with 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Add fennel bulb, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, bay leaf and tomato paste. Sauté two minutes, then add garlic and tomatoes. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes.
Add the sherry vinegar and fold in the reserved eggplant. Continue cooking for 20 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the ratatouille to cool to room temperature. Remove the bay leaf. Fold in the remaining 3 Tbsp of olive oil and basil, then season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until the next day.
Two hours prior to serving, remove the ratatouille from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Divide the ratatouille evenly between plates, then finish with the garnishes you have selected from the garden or local farmers market. These can be freshly diced, lightly pickled, quickly blanched or even grilled and refreshed in ice water. Chef Knoll’s favorites include peas or favas in the spring and corn or bronze fennel in the summer.
For an entrée, we pair the ratatouille with roasted Sonoma lamb or Sonoma Black Angus strip steak. Proteins may be prepared the day before. Simply cool quickly and then prior to serving, allow the meat to warm slightly on the cutting board. Slice the beef or lamb and serve over ratatouille with cooked quinoa. Garnish with fresh basil blossoms or new leaves, peas, pea shoots and fleur de sel.