Ratatouille

Ratatouille… the recipe, not the sympathetic rat from the Pixar film… Since I live in Provence (in the South of France), where all the vegetables needed for ratatouille are grown, it is a recipe I often cook. It is one of my favorite southern French recipes, and many of my friends ask for Ratatouille when they come to my place. Let’s prepare ratatouille together now!

I learned how to make ratatouille from my grandmother, who (I guess) learned it from her grandmother… This recipe is very simple and the clue to make it perfectly is to cook each vegetable… S-E-P-A-R-A-T-E-L-Y!!! And this is a secret that many French people still ignore.

Ratatouille is a French stewed vegetable dish that comes from Provence, in the South of France. There are several variations of this dish all around the Mediterranean  basin, such as the Italian « caponata » (with capers). To make the best Ratatouille, rather go for top quality organic vegetables. The word Ratatouille is a contraction of 2 old French words : « rata » (which was a food ration often served to the army composed of mixed vegetables) and « touille » (from the verb « touiller » which means to stir).

Ratatouille if often composed of zucchini, eggplant, tomato, garlic, onion, and bell peppers. I never use peppers, since my grandmother did not. Of course, you can choose to add some. Just follow the steps here under, wash the bell peppers, remove the seeds inside, cut it into small pieces, then sear it separately.

RATATOUILLE RECIPE 

Serves 8 | Prep. Time 30 min. | Cook Time 30 min.

Ingredients 

  • A dozen ripe and juicy tomatoes
  • 6 zucchini
  • 5 eggplants
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 2 bay leaves
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Instructions 

Ratatouille – Step 1: Wash, trim and cut vegetables

First, wash then blanch then peel tomatoes. If ever you have no time to peel tomatoes, you can leave it.

In France, tomatoes in ratatouille are often cooked with the peel.

I like to remove it, for the smoothest result.

Then chop the tomatoes and set aside.

Wash zucchini and eggplants without peeling it.

Cut all vegetables into regular dices. This is important for the final visual aspect of your Ratatouille.

Also, by dicing regularly the vegetables, you make sure to cook all the pieces evenly.

Ratatouille – Step 2: Cook separately

According to me, the key for a wonderful ratatouille is definitely to cook each vegetable separately. Some people in France cook all together, but you never get as much flavor and very often you have overcooked pieces with undercooked pieces. Indeed, that makes sense. Eggplants do not have the same texture as zucchini or tomatoes… That means that their cooking time is obviously not the same. Also, by cooking separately, each ingredient will release its flavors.

Tomatoes

Start by heating some olive oil into a large sauté pan on a medium heat.

Add 1 or 2 crushed cloves, 1 chopped onion and 1 bay leaf, and cook for a few minutes until the garlic and onion are sweating and become translucent.

Then pour the chopped tomatoes in the pan. Stir with a spatula and cook for at least 10 to 15 minutes until the tomatoes have slightly reduced and look like a tomato confit. Set aside.

Eggplants

I like to cook the eggplants directly into a large cast-iron casserole that we call « cocotte » in French. That kind of pan is ideal to gather all vegetables in the end of the recipe and cook for long. The reason is that I really like to keep the cooking juices from the eggplant that are coating the pan like a greasy caramel.

Start by heating some olive oil into a cast-iron casserole with some crushed garlic cloves and a spring of thyme. First sear the eggplants dices until they turn lightly brown. Then sprinkle some salt and pepper and leave to cook gently until the eggplant is soft. Then turn off the stove and set aside.

Zucchini

Same process as for the eggplants, but in a separate sauté pan. Start with olive oil, crushed garlic and a sprig of thyme…

Sear the zucchini dices into hot olive oil with 1 or 2 crushed garlic gloves and a sprig of thyme. Add some salt and pepper when zucchini start to soften and to color.

Time for Ratatouille : gather all together!

Now that you have seared and pre-cooked all the vegetables separately, it is time to gather all the ingredients into the large cast iron cocotte or a nonstick casserole.

When the ratatouille starts to simmer, cover and leave to cook at least 30 minutes. Check and stir regularly.

Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs before serving.

You can serve it quickly, as soon as the ratatouille has been simmering for 30 minutes, or let it stew for a couple of hours, on a very low heat.

« The longer, the better ! » is a French saying that we repeat when preparing Ratatouille.

I usually prepare a larger quantity of ratatouille because it even better the day after. And it makes a perfect meal with cooked rice for instance. You can also freeze the remaining ratatouille for a future use.

Finally, what I like above all is to eat ratatouille leftovers really cold, with a soft-boiled egg on top. Just drizzle a dash of sherry vinegar on top, sprinkle with some sea salt flakes and ground pepper… a taste of heaven!

Tip :

If you want to spare time or if you cannot find ripe and juicy tomatoes, replace the tomatoes by 3 cans of tomato pulp (5-6 cups) and simmer the tomato pulp in a saucepan with a couple of garlic cloves and a sprig of time, until slightly reduced.

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