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Well hey, I’m not going to pay a visit to our place in Nice and swan about its perfect little kitchen, brave the snooty sales ladies at Alziari for a tin of their unctuous olive oil, fossick about the farmers’ stalls for vegetables and forage for fresh herbs on the Cours Saleya and NOT idle away an idyllic afternoon preparing the greatest Niçoise cliché of all, which also just happens to be one of my favourite vegetable dishes ever, now am I?  Its fall from fashion since its 80s heyday probably had much to do with the ghastly glutinous supermarket tinned travesties I remember not enjoying at all – and I only resurrected this recipe having enjoyed the real McCoy so much Chez Palmyre I had to recreate it myself at home. So delicious it could turn you vegetarian, ladies and gentlemen: I give you ratatouïlle.
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Follow the correct principles using decent ingredients and you simply cannot go wrong.  I’ve never made the same one twice – vegetables vary in ripeness, juiciness, depth of flavour and the way they’re sliced or chopped makes a great deal of difference – but I’ve never made a bad one either.   Folk can get so precious about this sort of classic recipe but the fact is there is no one classic recipe.  In its home town nobody makes it the same as their neighbour, so why should you?  Just don’t undercook the vegetables nor stew them together without giving each its initial independent sauté – far less hassle than one might suppose. Oh – and don’t overdo the tomato.
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Roughshod Ratatouïlle Niçoise

1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced fine
4 – 6 medium sized, tasty tomatoes, chopped
good olive oil

1 red & 1 green sweet pepper, in .5cm slices 5 cm or so long
1 aubergine, in .5cm dice (do not peel!)
4 small courgettes, in 1cm slices
thyme, salt, pepper + a sliver of orange peel if you have it

Preferably in a cocotte, but if not at least in a high sided saucepan, gently fry the sliced onion in a couple of tablespoons olive oil until softening, then slip in the garlic and sizzle briefly before adding the tomatoes.  Stir to mix, drop in the thyme (and orange peel if using) with a pinch of salt then leave to cook down steadily on a low heat while you sauté the other vegetables.

I think it a nonsense to use separate pans for each vegetable – although one must respect their individual characteristics and sauté them separately – so take a wide and heavy-based frying pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and toss in the peppers.  Cook over a medium heat for 5-odd minutes until softened then add them to the pan of onion and tomato; stir to combine and continue cooking down gently.

Same pan, two tablespoons of olive oil: heat and throw in the aubergines.  Cook fairly briskly, tossing the dice about so they don’t stick, for between 5 and 10 minutes until they are definitely cooked, then tip into the other pan.

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Same deal with the courgettes: perhaps a little less oil and a gentler heat needed here.  Do make sure they have really softened sufficiently before adding to the ratatouille pot as they will not cook much further and a crunchy courgette is not what is wanted.  Give the master pot a good stir and allow to simmer a very few minutes.

Taste, season; enjoy.  Ratatouille is good eating right away and even better once the flavours have had time to settle in with each other.  Hot, cold, tepid; it’s both a fine accompaniment and solitary dish: good crusty bread is its best friend, especially if your ratatouille is on the watery side (no bad thing, btw).

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Fab to come home to: comforting when reheated on a wintry day and refreshingly cool on a sultry evening.

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