Ratatouille

Ratatouille is a fabulous late Summer/early Autumn vegetable stew which perfumes the kitchen with the essence of Provence and is one of the great Mediterranean dishes.  A really good ratatouille is not one of the quicker dishes to make, as each element is cooked separately before it is arranged in the casserole for a brief communal simmer.  With this method of cooking, each vegetable retains its own shape, flavour and character.

Ratatouile can be eaten hot or cold, as a main dish served with rice or baguettes, or as an accompaniment to plain chicken, beef or lamb.  It keeps getting better and better and leftovers can be served over pasta, made into an omelette or as an hors d’ouevre.  I made ratatouille a few weeks ago for my birthday party. As with many stews, it is at its best the next day so I cooked it in advance.  I used my enormous Le Creuset casserole to make enough for about 10 people, plus leftovers.

Sometimes when I cook a certain dish, I like to read a few different recipes to get a feel for how it can be put together.  Then I cobble together a pastiche of the best of the recipes.

Pastiche is an interesting word with a couple of meanings, the discussion of which came up at my party.  My English friends define it as ‘stylistic imitation’, while my American friends and I define it as a ‘hodgepodge or olio’.

“England and America are two countries divided by a common language”. – George Bernard Shaw

Ratatouille Pastiche

  • 4-5 medium eggplants/aubergines, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 6 zucchini/courgettes, cut into ¼” slices
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 large onions, cut into ½” pieces
  • 4-5 green, red, yellow or orange peppers, cut into ½” dice
  • 4 lbs/2 kg ripe tomatoes
  • 2 cups/500 ml Summer Tomato Sauce
  • 1 handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 handful of fresh basil, chopped
  • ½ cup/125 ml good olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Toss the eggplant with a generous amount of salt and place it into a colander, over a plate, to drain for at least 45 minutes.  Toss the zucchini with salt and place in another colander to drain.

Make the tomato sauce:

Summer Tomato Sauce

  • 3 lbs/1.5 kg tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons, finely minced basil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

To peel the tomatoes, with a sharp knife, cut an X opposite the stem.  Drop 2 – 3 tomatoes at a time into boiling water for about 10 seconds.  When they are removed, the skins will easily slip off.  Dig out the stem, cut in half, squeeze the seeds out and roughly chop.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the garlic.  Stir for about a minute and pour in the tomatoes.  Add the basil and a little salt and pepper, and cook the sauce for about a half an hour, until reduced by a third.

While the sauce is simmering, here’s a tour of my 6′ x 9′ kitchen.  About the same size as my fibre art studio!

Next rinse, drain and pat the eggplant and zucchini dry.

Rather than use a slew of saucepans, I cook each vegetable separately, then set them aside in a large bowl.  Cook the eggplant in hot oil until very lightly browned.  Remove to a bowl and lightly brown the zucchini. Cook the onions and peppers slowly in olive oil until tender, but not browned.  Stir in the garlic and season to taste.

Add to the cooked eggplant, zucchini and the tomato sauce and simmer for about 20 minutes.

At this point, you can carry on and finish the cooking the ratatouille, or put it in the fridge to continue the next day.

The next step is to add the finishing touches for the final communal simmer.  Mince the parsley and basil, and dice the remaining  tomatoes.

Stir these into the ratatouille along with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Bon Appetit!

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