Ratatouille [or Rat-a-Toolie, as my sister calls it] has fallen out of favour a bit since its foodie heydey in the eighties, which is a pity, because this traditional Provençal dish of stewed vegetables is arguably the best combination of non-meaty ingredients ever invented.
The troublesome word, in my opinion, is 'stewed' . I just don't dig stewed veggies, any way you slice them.
A ratatoolie made by sautéeing the ingredients in olive oil and then chucking them into a baking dish - in layers or mixed up, depending on whose gospel you are following - for a long stewing in the oven will taste okay, but doesn't do justice, in my opinion, to the key ingredients of this dish, namely tomatoes, aubergine, baby marrows [courgettes], red peppers [capsicums], garlic, onions and herbs. I'm all for the mingling of flavours, but I don't want them to mingle to the extent that all you can taste is, well, ratatouille, with a lightly mushy texture, and a top note of seeped veggie water.
Try this method of oven-roasting the ingredients, in batches, before you combine them with a purée of tomatoes. The roasting intensifies the flavour of each vegetable, and prevents a watery result.
This recipe takes little effort, but a lot of time. It also contains quite a lot of olive oil, but it's very low in carbohydrates, making it a brilliant choice of veggie accompaniment for a low-carb diet.
three large onions, peeled and quartered [or 12 baby onions, halved]
two fat, shining aubergines [brinjals or eggplants], cut into cubes
three red peppers [capsicums], sliced
125 ml [1/2 cup] olive oil
salt and freshly milled pepper
a few sprigs of thyme
a few needles of fresh or dried rosemary
Set the oven temperature to its highest setting [mine goes up to 260°C]. Arrange the prepared vegetables in three separate stripes [see left] in a deep metal roasting dish. Drizzle the olive oil over the vegetables, rubbing with your fingers to ensure that every piece is glossed with oil, and season well with salt and pepper. Top with a few sprigs of thyme and the rosemary needles. Put the dish into the blazing hot oven and roast the vegetables for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the heat of your oven, or until they are just beginning to blacken on the edges.
Now turn the oven down to 180°C and bake the vegetables for another 15 minutes, or until they are softened.
three cups plump, ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
12 baby marrows [courgettes], thickly sliced
6 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
a glug of olive oil [about 30 ml, or two tablespoons]
Put all the ingredients into a bowl and toss well to combine. Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven, and tip in the new raw ingredients. Stir well to combine. Put the dish back in the oven and baked for about 25 minutes, or until the cherry tomatoes have just started to collapse and the courgettes are tender. In the meantime, make the tomato sauce.
a glug of olive oil
2 fat cloves fresh garlic, peeled and crushed
two tins canned Italian tomatoes, and their juice, roughly chopped
4 big, ripe tomatoes, cut into small chunks
5 ml [1 tsp] sugar
1 bay leaf
a sprig of thyme
salt and freshly milled black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the garlic. Fry gently, but don't allow the garlic to brown. Now tip in all the remaining ingredients. Simmer over a very low heat for about 30 minutes. If the sauce seems lumpy, give it a light blitz with a stick blender [but remember to remove the bay leaf and thyme sprig].
A handful of fresh basil, torn
Remove the vegetables from the oven. Tip the hot tomato sauce over the veggies, add the torn basil leaves, and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary, and return to the oven for ten minutes.
Serve hot or, even better, just warm.
Excellent with a crumble of Feta cheese, over a tangle of pasta, or warm on bruschetta. Or on its own, with a few rocket leaves.