Through my teenage years tins of ratatouille formed a staple part of my diet. With no cooking skills to speak of these cans of silky stew accompanied by a microwaved jacket potato made a regular appearance in my after school/college meals. There is something comforting and luxurious about ratatouille, a sort of melt in the mouth quality typically associated with things that aren’t very good for you.
Given that the tinned variety of ratatouille is more than passable –veggies in the Nightshade family such as aubergines and tomatoes tend to survive the canning process better than others – it took me a long while to get about to making it from scratch. It was during a visit to a Provençal market on our honeymoon seeing all those shiny black aubergines, bulbous peppers, bouquets of herbs and mountains of heritage tomatoes that reminded me how much I love this dish and, with such amazing vegetables to hand it would have been a sin not to have at least attempted it. A classic Provençal dish, there are copious recipes for ratatouille. While there are variations, aubergine, pepper, courgette and onion are the key ingredients. In this version I suggest the use of mint as well as or instead of the more traditional basil. The mint gives a fresher more Eastern flavour but if this isn’t your thing then stick to the basil for a more authentic taste.
This recipe makes enough for a side or frugal main for 4 people. I tend to make double portions as the ratatouille lasts several days in the fridge and if the weather suits it is quite pleasant eaten cold. Once all the vegetables have gone through their first round of cooking, with each having some time in a frying pan on their own before being added to the cooking pot, all the hard work is done. Aside from the odd stir, once it is cooking the stew requires little attention and so it is a good dish to cook when people are coming over for dinner and you want to be in the living room talking to your guests rather than rushing around in the kitchen on your own.
- 1 large aubergine
- ½ tsp freshly ground sea salt
- 500g of courgettes (around 2-3 depending on size)
- 1 red pepper
- 1 yellow pepper
- 1 red onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4-6 tsp olive oil
- 4 firm vine ripened tomatoes, chopped or 400g tin of Italian tomatoes
- 100ml red wine
- ¼ tsp brown sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Small bunch fresh mint and/or basil
- Half the aubergine and dice into chunks. Don’t chop too small here as you want your ratatouille to have texture. Place the aubergine in a colander and sprinkle in the sea salt moving the aubergine around with your hands to ensure a fairly even coverage. Place the colander on a plate and sit a bowl or plate on top of the aubergine to help press out the juices and set aside.
- Cut the courgettes into 1cm thick coins. Core and deseed the peppers discarding any white pith and cut into bite size chunks.
- Halve and peel the onion. Finely chop one half and cut the other half into chunkier pieces for texture. Finely chop the garlic.
- Pour 1 tsp of the olive oil into a heavy based non-stick frying pan and add the onions. When the onions begin to soften and brown slightly add the peppers and cook for a further 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally. Transfer the onions and peppers into a casserole dish. Note that all the vegetables will go through a second round of cooking so the emphasis here is in giving them a bit of colour and helping bring out the flavour.
- In the frying pan add a further teaspoon of oil and throw in courgette slices. Once these are coloured on both sides – about a minute each side, then transfer to the casserole dish.
- Next, transfer the aubergine from the colander to a bowl by the handful squeezing each handful tightly to press out any remaining bitter liquid. Heat 2 tsp of oil in the frying pan and add the squeezed aubergine. Cook for 3-4 minutes adding a splash more oil if the aubergine starts to stick and then transfer to the casserole dish.
- In the pan, fry the garlic for around 30 seconds - you probably won’t need to add any more oil here as the garlic is in the pan for such a short time – then add the garlic to the casserole dish.
- To the vegetables and garlic add the tomatoes, wine, sugar, bay leaf, thyme and season with salt and pepper. Place on a low-medium heat and cook covered for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and cook uncovered for a further 15-45 minutes depending on the desired texture. A shorter cooking time will leave the vegetables firmer while a longer cooking time will result in a silkier, softer stew.
- To serve, remove the bay leaf and thyme. Tear the basil and mint leaves and sprinkle over the stew. Stir through and serve.