Holding onto summer with ratatouille
While those in the North are putting on dresses with pretty patterns and filling their houses with fresh flowers, down in the South us students are finally snuggling up to our hot water bottles and dreading the dripping windows that represent the coming of winter. The other day I even posted about a vege pot pie (although to be fair the day I wrote that up it was a balmy 28 degrees C in our sunny living room), and have been making ridiculous amounts of brownie (more to come!) to build up my Winter weight (joking…hopefully).
Now I know it doesn’t exactly look like the most summery thing in the world, but just chopping up the colourful bonanza of vegetables for this makes you feel like summer may not be so far behind you after all. Traditionally ratatouille (apart from being a well known film) is a mixture of tomatoes, capsicum (bell peppers), courgettes (/zucchini), onions, garlic, and eggplant (aubergine). Different people from different places use different herbs, but I used thyme, basil and oregano, because I thought those would go nicely in it and I had them on hand. I also broke with tradition and added some cooked cannellini beans and sliced mushrooms to make this meal sized, just because I felt like it. I like to think the mushrooms and beans introduced an earthy flavour to an otherwise tangy and sweet stew. Served alongside some lightly toasted bread, this was a richly flavoured yet light meal for dinner. You could also serve it sitting on top of pasta, or as a side dish.
If you’re interested in the flavour combination but don’t want to have it as a stew, there’s always the Julia Child way of making it: sauteeing the vegetables separately, then layering with a tomato, herb, onion, and garlic sauce. You’d then throw all this in the oven for a beautifully colourful and intricate looking dish. Deb at Smitten Kitchen has done this and it looks gorgeous, I however wanted something that wasn’t too fiddly, so all it went in a pan. I like to think the sauteeing brings out a lot more flavour from the vegetables, but that could just be my obsession with cooking things in fat talking. Honestly though, the most effort I exerted for this was chopping vegetables. It’s super easy but the flavours work wonderfully together. You’re welcome to play with quantities, but I personally like lots of peppers as they add so much colour and summery sweetness.
Non-conventional but delicious nonetheless…ratatouille!
serves 2 generously as a full on meal or 3 with child like appetites.
about 1/2c cooking oil*
3 medium or 2 large onions, chopped into 2cm dice
1 small/medium eggplant/aubergine, sliced into 1cm slices then quartered
optional: about 6 brown button mushrooms (cremini), sliced
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 capsicums (bell peppers) of different colour variety, chopped into 2cm chunks
1 courgette (zucchini), sliced
small handful of fresh basil, thyme and oregano, or 1/2 tsp dried of each (check Wikipedia for other herb suggestions)
optional: 1/2 c vegetable stock
optional: cooked cannellini beans (I used about 3/4 of a can’s worth)
1 x 400g can tomatoes (if using whole just stab them with your spatula until they’re not)*
generous splash balsamic or wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
*I feel it’s a bit of a waste to cook proper extra virgin olive oil but use it if you want, or drizzle a little in at the end
**I couldn’t find the can opener so I tossed in 3 small chopped tomatoes and about 1/3c tomato paste
In a large deep frypan, heat half the oil on high heat with the onions and eggplant. Cook, stirring every 10 seconds or so, until the onion and eggplant pieces start going translucent and soften. Add the mushroom slices and a few generous pinches of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Continue to cook on high heat, stirring every 10 seconds or so, until the onions have started to brown and the mushrooms are going translucent. Add the garlic, peppers, courgette and fresh thyme (or all the herbs if using dried herbs), and continue to cook, stirring every 30 seconds or so until the courgette slices are starting to turn translucent. The onions should be well browned and the peppers somewhat softer.
Stir in the stock and let cook until the liquid has reduced by about a half. Add the tomatoes, vinegar and beans if using, and reduce the heat to medium low. Let simmer and reduce the tomato liquids a little. Taste, and add extra salt, pepper or vinegar as to your liking. Serve alongside some fresh bread or cooked pasta.