So. I have a confession to make. For the past few years, I’ve had a bit of a crush. Well. I guess I should say its a pretty major crush. It started all in England, near the dairy aisle. This handsome little devil was calling my name in silence from across the linoleum walkway. Beckoning me, with his glossy sheen, his complex but simple attire, and his ability to share his warmth with anyone he came into contact with. I mean, wow! I just had to have him. So I tarted myself up a bit, and took him home with me, to keep him forever part of my dreams, and my love has grown for him ever since.
The key to his sauciness is the tastiest, most flavorful, and juicy… tomatoes you can find. What? You didn’t expect me to say tomatoes? Did I not mention my new-found best friend is none other than the french classic, ratatouille? That sinister, delectable, unbeatable little Mister from Provence. Whoops!
This version, to me at least, is the best version I’ve had (and I sample ratatouille basically everywhere I can!). It’s perfect for someone like me, who gets a wee bit too giddy at the summer markets, with the piles of brilliant violet varieties of aubergine, the stacks of zucchini as fresh as the little hairs that only stick around when being seen close to picking time, and the crispest new crops of fire engine red peppers. Take that overflowing basket of goodies home, unload, add a dash of some Herbs de Provence, and you are well on your way.
But, let’s get back to the time we first met. I thought my first found friend, a winter based Ratatouille, with swede(rutabaga), turnips (do NOT grimace if you have never tried them!), and the all important roasted tomatoes. But then, a love of chocolate – we can discuss this another time – brought me to know Joanne Harris, and her a-mazing cookbook collection, The French Kitchen, and The French Market, both of which highlight, real, simple, incredible french cuisine, and my copies happily reside in my kitchen, with tender love splatters and page folds displayed proudly. For a summer stew, this cannot be beat, and as courgette (zucchini), aubergine (eggplant), tomatoes (tomaaaaaaaato), red bell pepper, are more than a-plenty at the market, this should grace ALL of your menus, pronto!
So thank you Waitrose for bringing him into my life, and thank you Joanne Harris for livening, and enlightening my understanding of Ratatouille.
(adapted from Joanne Harris and Fran Warde’s My French Kitchen)
–4 tbsp olive oil
-2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
2 medium-sized aubergines (or 6 smallish, or 2 long Japanese), roughly chopped
4 courgette, chopped
2 lbs ripe, juicy tomatoes, cut in 4ths, or 3 14 oz. cans san marzano tomatoes
1 bunch of each: oregano, marjoram, parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
or if cannot find fresh herbs – sub 2 tbsp “Herbs de Provence”
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
In a large pot(preferably a dutch oven) heat 3 tbsp of olive oil over a medium heat. When ready, add the onions and garlic, and cook until starting to soften and color, around 5 minutes. Add the peppers, aubergine, and courgette, stir, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until all of the vegetables have started to color.
Next, add the tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups warm water, oregano, marjoram, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer, around a medium to low flame. Simmer for 1 to 2 hrs, stirring occasionally, until flavors have had a chance to melt. When finished, stir in the remaining olive oil for flavor. As with many stews, ratatouille tastes even better the next day, and freezes superbly, so make the full batch to have extras.
Tip: The longer is stews the better, and it tastes amazing reheated next day with all that extra flavor mesh time. Also, I have heard some qualms with the texture of stewed aubergine. If that’s you out there, cut into thickish slices, and roast in the oven until golden and crispy, with a soft interior. Then simply cut and add to your awaiting ratatouille. Texture problem, solved.