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 to 6
Several splashes of olive oil
1 eggplant, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks
A few zucchini, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeds removed, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks
1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks
A few onions, sliced
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, ï¬nely chopped
Several garden ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks or one 28-ounce (796 mL) can of whole tomatoes
A bay leaf
A few sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried
A sprinkle or two of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 or 2 bunches of fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon (15 mL) of balsamic vinegar
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.
Sometimes what you don’t know can help you, especially when it comes to getting vegetables on the table. Kids will always eat pasta with tomato sauce but they won’t always eat their vegetablesso it can help to magically, mysteriously hide them in the sauce. This is the sort of sauce that you may end up making on a regular basis, so it’s worth investing in an immersion blender. It really speeds up the works.
A recipe is merely words on paper; a guideline, a starting point from which to improvise. It cannot pretend to replace the practiced hand and telling glance of a watchful cook. For that reason feel free to stir your own ideas into this dish. When you cook it once, it becomes yours, so personalize it a bit. Add more of an ingredient you like or less of something you don’t like. Try substituting one ingredient for another. Remember words have no flavour, you have to add your own!