Late-Summer Ratatouille Provençale
A surprising number of us Brits are well-affiliated with ratatouille, usually out of a can. The stuff you get in a can, as tasty as I think it is, is nowhere near is delicious as a proper one. If you know how nice canned ratatouille can be, you'll have an idea how I'm boldly I'm up-selling a proper ratatouille! It doesn't have any of that mushy, sliminess that canned ratatouille has, it's just supreme, late-summer Provençal flavour all the way through.
Like a lot of the best French dishes out there, this dish is simple in essence but it does have a number of stages to do it properly. I'll be honest: this isn't the sort of dish I would want to make when I get home from work; there is a lot of chopping and preparation. However, I would want to make for a special occasion with a few people around, or at the weekend to freeze and enjoy through the following week when I can't be bothered.
The classic ingredients in a ratatouille can vary from tomatoes, aubergine, peppers, fennel, courgette, red onion. In my recipe, I stick to just three vegetables - tomato, aubergine and courgette - simply because it's a solid number, and also saves having another other vegetable to prep and cook.
Which leads me onto my next point. For a proper ratatouille, the French say each vegetable should be cooked separately before it is compiled in the dish. It's believed that each vegetable should taste remarkably of itself before it meets the others, and the French are right about that. What you don't want in ratatouille is bite after bite of sameness - like in Italian food. You want to appreciate the sweetness of the tomatoes, the bitter, smokiness of aubergines and the slight bite and creaminess from courgette. These are the only 3 vegetables you need, and I'm going to show you a speedy way of cooking all three, separately, yet at the same time!
- 6 large Vine Tomatoes
- 1 large Aubergine
- 1 large Courgette/Zucchini
- 1 large Onion
- 4 cloves Garlic
- 100g Tomato Paste
- 2 teaspoons Herbs de Provence
- 1 teaspoon Celery Salt (optional)
- 150ml White Wine
- Preheat the oven to 200C.
- To begin, we prepare the vegetables. The aubergine requires the most attention, we'll begin with that. Slice an aubergine into large, thin-ish slices. Arrange the slices in a colander or a sieve, and sprinkle over a good tablespoon of salt, rub it into the slices and leave them to soak. What this does is draw out all of the bitter, unpleasant juice which often puts people off aubergine - it's an excellent tip I learned from the Turkish. Leave it to stand and drain while you prepare the other vegetables.
- Take your courgette and your tomatoes and slice them into fairly thin slices - about a half-centimetre thick. Leave them to stand while you prepare a tomato sauce for the ratatouille.
- We are going to make a basic tomato sauce as a flavour-base for the ratatouille - it soaks and sweetens the vegetables - though you could use a jar of tomato sauce if you're pushed. Gently fry a chopped onion with a teaspoon of celery salt (or sea salt). When soft, add in 4 grated cloves of garlic, two teaspoons Herbs de Provence, a teaspoon of sugar and 150ml of white wine and stir until the wine reduces a little and becomes syrupy. Spoon in 100g of tomato paste and about 150ml of water to help it stir into the sauce. Leave it to stand on a gentle simmer while we cook the vegetables.
- As mentioned earlier, the French state each vegetable should first be cooked separately so they each develop their own distinct flavour. The sliced tomatoes do not need to be pre-cooked, only the courgette and aubergine. Instead of frying batch-after-batch of sliced vegetables, we're going to cook them at the same time - in the oven! Take two large oven trays and line them with foil. Drizzle over some oil and arrange the sliced courgette and aubergine onto separate trays (make sure you rinse the salt off the aubergine first!) Place into a 200C oven and bake them for about 10 minutes until wrinkled and soft, then take them out.
- Once the vegetables are baked, take a casserole dish to present the ratatouille in. Butter it well around the bottom and up the sides, and spoon in about two-thirds of the tomato sauce around the bottom of the dish. Take alternating slices of vegetable - tomato aubergine, courgette - and line the outside edge of the casserole dish, slightly overlapping them like slates on a roof. Continue to line the vegetables around and around until it spirals around towards the centre of the dish. Take the remaining tomato sauce and spoon a little over the top of the vegetables to keep them moist. Cover with a lid, or foil, and place into a 200C oven to roast for 40 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and drain off any excess sauce which might have bubbled up and over the vegetables. Take it to the table straight away, or leave to cook and freeze it for a rainy day.