The recipe I’m about to provide isn’t really ratatouille – you can’t make ratatouille without aubergine (eggplant) and this is really more of a quick vegetable ragu. But that just doesn’t sound as nice so I’m going to call it ratatouille and be done with it. Also it’s completely delicious, can be done ahead, is simple and healthy so when it comes to the name, as Clark Gable once said to Vivien Leigh, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”.
This ratatouille dish has its roots firmly in the French region of Provence. It’s a beautiful part of the world rich with bountiful natural produce with the scent of lavender fluttering in the air. My friends and I once drove through it and it was a beautifully tranquil interlude in an otherwise overly eventful holiday. Provençale flavours are pregnant with garlic, onions, herbs and tomatoes – it borders on Italy and its flavours are deeply connected. In fact, it is little known but nevertheless true that all Modern French cookery can be traced back to the Italians, in fact to one Italian – Catherine de Medici. When she married the French king Henry II, she agreed on the condition that she could bring her Italian chefs with her. At the time French food was very basic and she challenged her chefs with coming up with a cuisine to rival the Italian cuisine but with the local ingredients. Sacré bleu – I’m glad she did!
There are no great secrets to cooking these vegetables well, all it really requires is good seasoning (a decent amount of salt and a lot of pepper), well chopped vegetables and to not overcook them. When done wrongly the ratatouille is sloppy and insipid, when done well it’s transporting and rivals a fillet steak. There is however, one secret to finishing the ratatouille before serving. Once cooked (or reheated as this reheats exceptionally well and would be reheated in a restaurant), you emulsify in some extra virgin olive oil. It lifts the entire dish and makes it sumptuous with a very rich and satisfying mouthfeel.
This ratatouille is delicious with chicken. In fact I recently served it to some friends of ours with a little pea purée (here’s the recipe), some chicken crackling (here’s the recipe) and a chicken ballotine stuffed with chicken mousse. But it doesn’t need to be that complicated by any means – It’s also lovely simply paired with a little lamb, just like they would in Provence. In fact, most simply and our favourite, it’s delicious simply on top of pasta (G would genuinely eat this every day if I didn’t mind cooking it all the time). Most recently though I’ve made it into a great ratatouille pizza with parma ham, lemon ricotta and parsley!
I’ve had a lot of people ask me in the past whether reheating something like this makes it lose its freshness and vitality. The short answer is no, the longer answer is not perceptibly unless you heat it too much, the even longer answer is that although some flavour molecules will be broken down by the additional heat, that won’t occur in large amounts unless you overheat the vegetables to the point where you would be recooking not reheating and that this flavour loss is countered by the marination that occurs whilst the vegetables are happily getting to know one another in the fridge. In short, cook this ratatouille in a big batch and use it for lots of things or for a dinner party cook it up to two days before, reheat gently and add in the olive oil.
- 2 courgettes (zucchini)
- 2 banana shallots or one white onion
- 300g cherry tomatoes – I find san marzano to be the best but any dense cherry tomato with a high flesh to seed ratio and soft skin will work
- 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 sprig of thyme
- Salt and pepper, olive oil to cook
- Dice the courgettes into a small dice. You want the courgettes to be about half as wide as a regular playing dice. Dice the banana shallots as finely as you are able.
- Optional: Remove the skins from the cherry tomatoes by pricking the skin and immersing very briefly in boiling water. Then plunge into ice cold water to prevent cooking and peel off the loosened skins. This improves the texture as you don’t have bits of tomato skin in the ratatouille. However, it is not necessary if your tomatoes have soft skin (like San Marzano) and sometimes life is just too short.
- Whether you’ve removed the skins or not, cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and then slice the halves very thinly.
- Place a pan over medium heat with a good glug of olive oil. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook until the onions are soft but not coloured (about 5-8 minutes). Do not add the garlic at this stage
- Add the garlic and the courgettes and add a little more olive oil if the pan looks dry. Season again and cook until the courgettes have gone translucent (about 5-8 minutes).
- Turn the heat to high and add the tomatoes. Cook until there is almost no liquid left but the vegetables are not overcooked (about 3-5 minutes).
- Take off the heat and season liberally with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper – it can take quite a lot of pepper actually. If you don’t want to eat it straight away then place in the fridge at this point and reheat gently when you want to eat it. The ratatouille will keep for a few days very happily.
- Before serving, pour in the extra virgin olive oil stirring as you do until the oil is emulsified. Serve the ratatouille on pasta or with a meat of your choice (chicken and lamb are especially good!)
TimedEating tips and tricks for cooking ahead:
- Do all the chopping whenever you have time. You don’t have to cook them immediately after chopping. Just don’t chop the garlic in advance or it will go really pungent.
- You can make the whole ratatouille up to a week in advance. If doing so don’t add the oil at the final step, only add the oil once reheating. To reheat, place on a gentle heat and warm through in a pan, you may wish to add a tablespoon of water before adding the ratatouille to even the reheating.
- The ratatouille freezes very well. To reheat simply thaw first and then reheat as normal.
- If making a pasta sauce out of the ratatouille, reheat as per normal but add a few splashes of the pasta water after stirring in the oil and then finish the pasta by cooking in the sauce. Makes a large difference to how it ends up, I promise!