This panful needs a nice rest, it will be delicious by the time I get back from work, better tomorrow, and as good the day after, flavours deep and rich from a good wallow. I am not sure it will last that long.
Oh, I am sure some of you will argue you can’t reheat Ratatouille as it loses it’s just cooked freshness and goes a little mushy. I adore it freshly cooked, but I am just as partial to a bowlful after a day or two, different, sweeter, softer, mellow, yes a little soggy in it’s oily syrup, but delicious just the same.
I grew up eating Ratatouille, my Mum inspired by happy, warm, family camping holidays in southern France and guided by Elizabeth David took to wearing smocks, funny headscarfs – which was mortifying for me at the time – and cooking up pans of this provençal ragoût weekly. She gently stewed aubergines, sweet red peppers, courgettes, tomatoes and onions in olive oil, simmering up something aromatic and evocative, each mouthful transporting us somewhere warmer, somewhere slower, somewhere where your face is flushed with freckles or in my case your face is one big freckle, sea salt and the thrusting local red – diluted with water in my case, like the french children at the next table. We ate ratatouille with roast chicken, roast lamb, mixed with some cooked chickpeas, ladled over rice, topped with a poached egg, alongside some scrambled ones, mopped up just warm bowlfuls with bread.
When I make ratatouille now, I think of my Mum, my memories leapfrog the painful years, there were a few too many my moods as black as my excessive eyeliner, back further to the gentler ones. The years when I would sit, perched on the counter repeatedly kicking my heels against the cupboard, which I imagine was more than a little irritating. I would watch her chopping and salting the aubergines, wiping hers eyes with the back of her hand as the onions brought tears to them and promptly poke an oniony finger in my own eye because I could, taunt the cat by launching vegetable chunk missiles at his basket, run into the garden to get some basil from the pot wedged in the warmest corner of the garden so as to survive the English elements and violent garden games.
I have a problem with the blackboard today.
At least I am happily worry free about ingredients, the market we live above in Rome is a joy-full little daily carnival of fresh, local produce. A morning shop like this is as pleasing and beautiful as a bunch of flowers.
I like chopping, I can’t do anything fancy or particularly fast, but I can find a happy rhythm, cut things up into nearly regular pieces, cut myself with quite stunning accuracy in the same place at least one a week, and feel most satisfied at the colourful little piles.
Purists might gripe at my recipe – don’t they always – saying each ingredient should be cooked separately and then combined to attain the smooth creamy consistency. Maybe they are right, I should try it one day, but until then, I will cook with my Mum in mind and do it her way, I might even don a headscarf while I’m at it.
Having said that, I don’t actually own a headscarf so will use a teatowel, and a specific recipe is rather illusive. As with so many recipes passed down through families and learned by observation and taste, each Ratatouille is somewhat freestyle, accuracy and timings having melted away over the years into something intuitive, shaped by moods, memories, what the seasonal vegetable basket provides and the pans capacity.
Today’s panful went a little like this, 2 sweet red onions, 1 large aubergine, 3 courgettes, 2 sweet red peppers, some garlic, 4 red tomatoes, salt and plenty of good olive oil (my generous glug looked a bit like 10 tbsp.) You chop everything into the shapes you will find most pleasing in your mouth, for me that’s thin half moons slices of onion, coin sized rounds of courgette, modest strips of red pepper and thin quarter moons of aubergine, I cut the peeled tomatoes in half, scoop out the seeds and chop them into a rough and tumble bits.
Once everything is chopped you begin adding the vegetables one by one into the warm oil, allowing them to soften before adding the next. Onions and garlic first then aubergines, courgettes and finally red pepper, adding more oil if you feel the need. You let these 5 simmer away covered for about 40minutes before adding the tomatoes, stirring and letting it all gently cook away for another 40minutes. A final touch, a generous handful of coarsely chopped parsley and basil.
Ratatouille needs a rest, an hour at least, it is then delicious, still just a little warm. It will keep nicely for up to 4 days in the fridge, you just pull it out a while before you intend to eat it, warming it through slightly over gentle flame or simply allowing it to come to room temperature – Ratatouille in my opinion is not one for extremes, too hot or too cold dulls its bright soft flavors.
Last thing, I don’t salt my aubergines and courgettes as the ones I buy locally are sweet, not bitter or coarse or overly waterlogged, you may like to, you know best.
I think it goes without saying fresh, top notch ingredients are pretty vital for something as simple as this.
Inspired by my Mum and many happy holidays. Adapted from Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean Food.
yield – nice panful.
- 2 medium onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 large firm aubergine
- 2 medium sweet red peppers
- 3 courgettes
- 10tbsp olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- handful of coarsely chopped fresh basil and parsley
Prepare your vegetables.
Peel and slice the onions into thin half- moons slices. Mince the garlic. Cut the aubergine into quarter moon 1/2 inch slices. Chop the courgettes into 1/2 inch rounds. Open and deseed the red peppers and cut into strips. Peel and deseed the tomatoes and cut them into rough chunks.
Warm the oil in a large, thick bottomed wide pan. Add the onions and cook until they are soft but not brown, you want them to stew in the oil not fry.
Add the aubergines, stir and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the courgettes, stir and cook for a couple of minutes.
Repeat with the garlic and then red pepper.
Cover the pan and cook over a gentle flame for about 40minutes, stir every now and then.
Add the tomatoes, stir and recover the pan and cook for another 30minutes. Then uncover the pan and cook for a final 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat, Add the chopped basil and parsley and allow to rest.