Ratatouille, pronounced ra-ta-too-ee, is a delicious vegetable stew originally from Nice, commonly found all over Provence and the South of France. I feel I have to mention that it was this long before the Pixar film of the same name and the reason I say that is that if you google “ratatouille”, the film comes up first. So wrong!
It’s one of my favorite dishes and really so simple to make, despite the complications some chefs go to. It’s a summer dish, at its best when the vegetable ingredients are in season. It consists of juicy ripe tomatoes, courgettes (zucchini), red or yellow peppers (capsicum), aubergines, onion, garlic, herbes de Provence (thyme, rosemary, basil) and olive oil….
The following recipe is how I make it and I know some purists would say I’ve got it wrong by not cooking all the different vegetables separately first before putting them together, but as far as I’m concerned life’s too short for that! For me it’s an easy, quick, healthy, wholesome and totally delicious dish that doesn’t need to be fiddly but if you want to cook each vegetable separately to supposedly seal in each flavour, go for it.
I’ve been known to massacre it in other ways adding just about every veg I could think of to get my kids to eat their 5-a-day. When my teen was a toddler he thought it was so funny if we called it ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-too-ee, that he’d eat whatever I put into it (carrot, celery, mushrooms, leaks, fennel); and so it became a firm family favourite. These days my boys are good eaters and I don’t need to resort to humour and subterfuge to get them to eat their veggies so I mainly make it with the proper ingredients. But having said that, sometimes I leave out the pepper – like here as I didn’t have any in my farmers’ market box.
2 large cloves of garlic
6 big juicy ripe tomatoes ( or a large tin if you can’t get really ripe fresh ones)
1-2 large aubergines or in this case I used 4 small ones
2-3 large courgettes or 5-6 small ones
I red or yellow pepper
A bunch of fresh herbs, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, savoury, basil – whatever you can get hold of, or failing that a good generous pinch of dried herbes de Provence
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chop everything up into rough chunks, no need to be too precise, this is a rustic dish. Heat up a good lug of olive oil and sautée the onions until they start to caramelise, then add the courgettes, stirring them around in the lovely golden oil. When they are evenly coated and starting to colour a little on the edges throw in the aubergine and peppers. Add the garlic and mix around. Finally when all the veg is nicely covered in oil and starting to wilt a little add the tomatoes. Stir gently and cover the pan. Leave to simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes or so till all the vegetables are soft. (Less time if you’ve cut into thin slices rather than chunks). Add the herbs, salt and pepper and leave to simmer for a further 5 minutes.
I like to serve it with rice and grilled meat/fish from the barbecue, like the delicious tuna steak in the pictures or just with a hunk of crusty bread for a light lunch. I usually make loads and keep in in the fridge for 3-4 days, when the flavours get even better. It freezes well too so I often make extra for another time.
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