When I first made ratatouille, Delia Smith was my guide. Thirty years later, I have not deviated much from her path. Julia Child’s recipe has been an influence; but, as it is claimed that a man can dirty every pot, pan, utensil, and surface in a kitchen merely boiling an egg, I have not had the courage to follow Julia’s method fully lest I incur the wrath of She Who Calls It HER Kitchen. Some nice people on the web (whose first names may or may not end in ‘a’) have three ways to make ratatouille: classic, common, and simple. I have also drawn eclectically from their ideas to make my version of this Provencal vegetable stew.
Before beginning, there are a few things to note. The first is that ideally, I make ratatouille at the height of the grilling season. The ingredients are fresh and bought from the farmer’s market; the herbs come from the garden. This time, I am going to the grocery store and using dried herbs.
The second is that this is a Provencal stew which uses Provencal herbs. I know that the Herbes de Provence mixes are not strictly authentic; but they do taste and smell nice. When I can, I use the following mix of fresh herbs:
1 tsp oregano leaves
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp sized ball of French tarragon leaves
1 tsp sized ball of rosemary leaves
1 tsp sized ball of lavender leaves
2 tsp sized balls of summer savory leaves
2 tsp sized balls of basil
I put the herbs, big leaves first, into a herb mill and finely shred them into the pot.
The third is that like most stews, ratatouille is better the second day. Indeed, it freezes well. I make a big batch and divide it into family sized containers. If we have visitors, I take out two or more tubs as required. Because it is going to be reheated, I tend to cook it until the vegetables are just tender the first time and then reheat it slowly and thoroughly the second time. The first time, I cook it in a big, thick bottomed stock pot and the second time in a Le Creuset casserole. When reheating, I add a little extra basil and some parsley, together with a twist of the pepper mill to freshen the flavours.
The fourth is that this recipe divides the tomatoes. This deviant behaviour comes from trying to do two things at once: (a) I want some discernible bits of tomato in the finished product; and (b) I want a goopy rather than watery liquid.
This preamble has ambled o’er long.
Because vegetables do not come in standardised, exact weights, take approximately:
2 lb of Aubergine/Eggplant
2 lb of Courgette/Zucchini (slim ones)
2 lb of Onion
2 lb of Green, Red, and Yellow Peppers
3 lb of Tomato
3 to 6 Cloves of Garlic (depending on how much you like the stuff)
Herbes de Provence
Salt and Pepper
Slice the aubergines and courgettes into inch thick slices. Cut the courgette slices in half; then cut the aubergine slices into pieces about the same size as the courgettes. Lay all the pieces out on a board and sprinkle them with salt. Put them into a colander, or the pasta insert for a stock pot, put a plate which fits inside the colander/insert on top of them, and add weights to the plate. Put the whole contraption into the sink or into a basin or deep dish. Leave this for about an hour or until you are ready for the contents.
Boil a full electric kettle’s worth of water. Put the tomatoes into a bowl and cover with the boiling water. Leave these until you are ready for them.
In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat enough olive oil as will cover the bottom. Do this at medium heat.
Coarsely chop the onions and peppers into pieces about an inch square.
Soften the onions in the oil.
Add the desired amount of crushed garlic. Stir it about for a couple of minutes.
Add the peppers; and soften them.
While the peppers are softening (remember to give them a stir every so often), peal, de-seed, and chop the tomatoes into inchish sized chunks.
Add a tablespoon of dried Herbes de Provence to the pot, and warm through until the aromas are released.
Then add half of the tomatoes to the pot and let them cook down.
If you have been taking your time and enjoying cooking, the aubergines and courgettes should be ready. Take the weights and plate off them. Rinse them through with cold water and pat them dry with a proper tea towel. (Paper towel doesn’t work very well.) Add them a little at a time to the pot, stirring through the cooked down tomatoes.
Add the rest of the tomatoes and warm through.
Adjust salt and pepper levels to taste.
Simmer, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables are tender.