Mediterranean Ratatouille

Ratatouille is a traditional, rural French stew. The ‘right’ way to make it depends on whose kitchen you’re in. I find it odd that I tend to regard it as a rather austere dish, and yet when I make it, I revel in the flavors. I think part of that can be attributed to the addition of sun-dried tomatoes and olives that enrich it.

Ratatouille served with mashed garlic cauliflower and potato, and grated faux cheez.

Here in my kitchen, the quantities of the various vegetables in ratatouille are approximate since this is a very forgiving dish and can be varied depending on the cook’s mood or the availability of produce. The finished dish can be frozen since the vegetables are all cooked until they are on the verge of terminally relaxing together anyway, though it is better fresh.

If you’re not familiar with eggplants (aubergines), know that you want to pick one that feels heavy for its size, and is shiny. As they mature, eggplant seeds get darker and harder, and holes start to appear in the flesh, which also gets pithier. Mature seeds are rather unpleasant to eat. Another feature of eggplants, is that they absorb oil like the proverbial sponge. To get around that problem, you can either avoid frying them (and cook them in the tomato liquid – the easy option, and my preferred method), or you can salt them for 1/2 hour before cooking. I believe the traditional method of making ratatouille, is to fry everything individually before combining. Personally, I couldn’t stomach the fat involved, and am happy to accept the mixing of flavors that must happen when the ingredients are cooked together.

These quantities make about 6 servings. I like to serve it up in baked potatoes (coleslaw on the side), with garlic mashed potatoes, with garlic bread, in a gourgere, or with GF pasta (and grated cheez).

1 large eggplant (aubergine), stem removed, chopped into 3/4″ dice
2 tsps salt (used for salting the eggplant – optional)
2-6 tsps oil (This can be oil from the sun-dried tomatoes if you are using them, and the quantity depends on how rich or low calorie you want the dish to be.)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2-6 zucchini (courgette), either thinly sliced, or 3/4″ dice
2-4 red/yellow/orange bell peppers chopped into 1/2″ thick strips (frozen works well).
6-8 cloves garlic, chopped/minced
1 large (28oz) tin of chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (dried or in oil) (optional, but recommended)
1/4 – 1/2 cup (12-25) black olives, Greek brined, not Californian (optional but recommended, adds richness)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary (1 tsp dried) OR 5 fresh basil leaves (or to taste – optional)
salt to taste
1 tsp thyme (if not included in your sun-dried tomatoes)
1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste
1 tbsp of sugar, if required to counteract acidic tomatoes

Initially, the tomato doesn’t appear to be quite enough for the stew, but the dish becomes moister, as the vegetables soften.

Heat the oil over a medium high heat in a large saucepan.

Add the onion, sauté for 2-4 minutes.

Add the zucchini (courgette) and peppers, sauté for 2-4 minutes.

Add all the remaining ingredients, except for fresh basil (if using).

Stir, cover, turn the temperature down for a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have released their juices: about 15-20 minutes.

Add the basil, if using, and season to taste.

Remove the lid and cook until excess juices have evaporated and the ratatouille is a thick stew (or however you like it).

Variation: Vegetable Tagine

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