Ratatouille – Rustic French Vegetable Stew
Packed with fresh, late summer vegetables Ratatouille takes advantage of a bountiful garden in a classic Provencal stew, a staple of French country cooking. Roma tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions, garlic, parsley, thyme, bay and olive oil – the ingredient list is pure simplicity. Ratatouille was and iconic peasant dish long before Disney’s rat entered the kitchen.
While classically unadorned, a good ratatouille; one that is thick and rich with tomatoes, zucchini and peppers still tense on the teeth and not a watery, mushy mess is all about proper technique. It’s amazing the difference a little extra care can make.
Ratatouille is a stew plain and simple and as such, the technique we use is a slow braise. First sweat diced vegetables lightly, with a good olive oil and salt and pepper before pouring them off into a waiting strainer over a bowl to weep. Then make a thick tomato sauce, bringing it to a solid bubble before adding just the vegetables, pouring in only what you need of those juices to bring the stew to a good consistency. Then it’s into a waiting oven, covered with tinfoil, but vented to allow steam to escape.
The result is a dense, stick-to-your-belly stew – colorful and ripe, and packed with garden flavours. Pair with a roasted chicken, rubbed lovingly with butter and finished with coarse salt, or a fatty mediterranean fish like grilled sardines, but whatever you do keep it uncomplicated. Ratatouille is far from haute cuisine, it craves unpretentious company.
Add a bottle of rosé to the table and live well. All of life should be this effortless, and delicious!
Prep time: 35 minutes
Cooking time: about 1 hour
Serves: six to eight
4 large roma tomatoes
1 28oz (796ml) can of tomatoes
1 large yellow onion
2 medium zucchinis, diced medium
1 medium eggplant, diced medium
1 small red pepper, diced medium
1 small green pepper, diced medium
6 – 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 – 7 stems of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil, as needed
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh basil, cut in a fine chiffonade
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F (180°C). Heat a large, deep pan over medium heat add a swirl of olive oil and begin lightly sweat your vegetables in the pan, cooking lightly without colour; zucchini, eggplant and peppers, one vegetable type at a time seasoning lightly as you go. Add more olive oil as needed until your vegetables are just starting to soften, then pour or scoop off into a waiting strainer over a large bowl. Reserve at room temperature.
2. In the same pan, add more olive oil as needed and start sweating your onions until transparent, stirring as needed (about 4 minutes). Add finely chopped garlic and parsley and cook for a minute or two more before adding diced roma tomatoes and cooking for about three minutes. Finally, add your canned tomatoes, crushing them by hand as you add them to the pan. Season and stir. Reduce heat to medium-low to simmer for about 10 minutes to reduce by half, stirring as needed.
3. Once your sauce is reduced add your waiting vegetables into the sauce, stirring to coat. Add fresh thyme and bay leaf, cover loosely with tinfoil, punch vents in tinfoil to allow steam to escape. Place in waiting 350°F oven (180°C) for about an hour, remove tinfoil and while it’s out, fish out bay leaves and any thyme stems then return to the oven, uncovered for about 15 minutes, to dry the top of the stew just a little bit.
Remove from the oven, add fine chiffonade of basil and stir to combine. Rest about 5 minutes and serve with a drizzle of good olive oil for a truly authentic taste of of Provence. Bon appetit.