Ratatouille is one of the world’s great vegetable dishes. It’s a brightly flavoured rustic dish of stewed vegetables that traces its roots to the sunny south of France. It’s simple to make—and simple to vary—and usually includes tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, eggplant and zucchini slowly cooked together with olive oil.
Yield: Serves 4 - 6
several splashes olive oil
1 eggplant, cut into 1-inch chunks
a few zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeds removed, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into 1-inch chunks
a few onions, sliced
4 or 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
several garden ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
a bay leaf
a few sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
a sprinkle or two sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 or 2 bunches fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
There are as many ways to make ratatouille as there are cooks, all with the same basic group of ingredients. The easiest method is to simply pile everything into a stockpot and simmer until tender. While this is a perfectly appropriate way to make a vegetable stew, it’s not the tastiest way. For maximum flavour try the following.
Begin by sautéing the eggplant and zucchini in a large skillet over high heat with a splash or two of olive oil. Continue cooking, stirring and tossing, until the vegetables are golden brown and tender, 10 minutes or so. Set these vegetables aside in a bowl.
Turn the heat down a bit and continue with another splash or two of olive oil and the bell peppers, cooking them just until they’re tender, another 5 minutes or so. Add them to the first batch of reserved vegetables.
Next, sauté the onions with another splash of olive oil until they soften a bit. Add the garlic and continue for another few minutes.
Lower the heat. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme and simmer until the mixture thickens, another 10 minutes or so. Break up the whole tomatoes into smaller pieces.
Add the reserved vegetables and season the works with salt and pepper. Simmer until everything is heated through.
Stir in the fresh basil and balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.
You may finish the ratatouille with several heaping spoonfuls of freshly made Basil Pesto, fresh oregano, lots of sliced green onions or parsley. For a more Mediterranean flavour, try adding lots of kalamata-style black olives or artichoke hearts. You can add lots of grilled flavour to ratatouille by grilling the eggplant, zucchini and peppers and tossing them with the stewed tomato mixture and basil.
Braising is my favourite cooking method. I just love the way it can transform an inexpensive, tough cut of beef into a tasty tender stew. Toss in the earthy flavours of root vegetables and aromatic red wine, and you are well on your way to a rich flavour base. But the real secret to a truly memorable beef stew is patiently browning the meat.