Ratatouille, a novel

***before we get started, a quick apology is in order. My internet died (oh no!) for about a week, so I haven’t been able to post. It didn’t stop me making all the French goodness though, so no that I’m back on board, the posts will be flowing. ******

There are many ways to make ratatouille. I’m sorry to say I can’t point you to the most ‘right’ or ‘traditional’ version, but I can tell you about mine.

I made my first ratatouille when I was 16, at school, in my Hospitality class. It was terrible, having very little flavour. The teacher had a penchant for healthy, fat-free fare, a preference I can respect, but not agree with – I’m into spices and oil, thanks.

It took me a long time to try it again after that, but eventually, living in cold Canberra, and in search of cheap wintry dishes, I came across another recipe. It was better, and sparked my interest in coming up with the best recipe I could.

Ratatouille is a dish of vegetables, generally zucchini, eggplant and capsicum, cooked in a tomato sauce, with herbs and onion. There are versions made in the oven, but I like to make it on the stove, giving me control over the falvour, and the pleasure of making the whole house smell like tomatoes and onions and thyme.

I use 1 medium eggplant, 1 large or 2 small zucchinis, and 1 red capsicum, with 1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 5 very ripe tomatoes, and salt, pepper, 1 tsp sugar, 2 tsp dried thyme,vegetable stock and some tomato paste. And don’t forget the olive oil!

Vegies galore
Adelaide tomatoes are my favourite

To start, chop your eggplants into rounds if using a small one, or chunks if using a large eggplant, arrange the chunks on a plate and salt them. Leave them to sit.

Next, chop the zucchini and capsicum into rounds and chunks respectively. Keep them separated and set aside. Dice the onion, mince the garlic, and again, keep them separated, and set aside.

To finish the preparations, put a small pot of water on to boil. Score a small cross on to the bases of your tomatoes with a paring knife, and remove the core from the top. Place the tomatoes gently into the boiling water, and remove with a slotted spoon after 1 minute. Let them cool, then gently peel off the skins and set aside. Chop the tomatoes coarsely.

Score the bottom with a cross
Remove the core

Now you’re ready to get into it and cook the vegies. You want to cook each vegetable (zucchini, eggplant and capsicum) in oil. You don’t want to fry them as such, its more like softening them in the oil – they should come out lightly cooked, but without any brown bits.

I read somewhere that ratatouille is the process of cooking each vegetable individually, then letting them meet and mingle in the tomato sauce. Keeping this in mind, make sure you cook them in oil separately, putting them to the side one by one.

Once your vegies are cooked (don’t forget to wipe the eggplant down before you cook it!) its time to make the tomato sauce. Heat a little oil in a large saucepan. If you only follow one instructions, its this: fry the onion for at least 10 minutes over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally. Really, at least 10 minutes. No one here in Oz cooks their onions for long enough to bring out the best in them. They should be translucent, and they should smell fantastic. Its 10 minutes, or don’t use them at all :).

Next, add the minced garlic, and continue to heat on low for another 5 minutes. Then, add the tomatoes to the pan. Over a medium heat, cook the tomatoes for 10 minutes, stirring.

Pour about 1/2 a cup of vegetable stock into the saucepan. Add the thyme, and bring the sauce to a boil. Stirring, continue to boil for 5 minutes, allowing the sauce to reduce somewhat.

Now its time to let the vegetables mingle. Turn the heat back down to medium, add vegies, and let the whole thing simmer for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes the vegetables should be soft, the sauce should have reduced again, and it should smell glorious. Turn the heat off, and give it a taste test. If you have used tomatoes that aren’t completely ripe, you may want to add some sugar and/or tomato paste now. You may also want to add some sea salt.

The final product - tastes better than it looks

Once it tastes good, you’re done! Serve it with a grain, (i like it with quinoa), and some crusty bread.

Bon Appetit!

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