Archive for May 3rd, 2010

Ratatouille Niçoise, also called Ratatouille Provençale, is a traditional dish from the Provence region of France, originating from the Mediterranean town of Nice, after which it gets its proper full name.  Mostly, however, this is shortened to just Ratatouille.  I cannot give a particular source for this recipe, but anyway I consider this version my own!  As with my personal combinations for Chilli con Carne and Ragu Bolognaise, this recipe has altered over the years into the combination of flavours we currently enjoy and it may well continue to develop.

However, following a suggestion in the book Cooking in Provence by Alexander MacKay & Peter Knab my most recent addition has been dried orange peel, which evokes the scent and flavour of the Mediterranean climate. (See information about orange peel in my section on ingredients.)  I once read that true Herbes de Provence should have a little culinary lavender added as well, so if I have some available I add just a little.  (A word of warning: Lavender is said to induce labour and therefore should not be served to anyone who is, or may be, pregnant.)  MacKay & Knab also add cayenne instead of ordinary pepper, which even if used sparingly, gives a gentle spicy kick.  Ratatouille mixture can be eaten as a vegetarian main course on its own, topped with grated parmesan cheese or as a side vegetable dish with grilled meat (gammon steak or pork chops are good).  I also use it in North African Style Fish Fillets, a North African style recipe where the Ratatouille is layered in the bottom of a serving dish as a bed on which fish fillets are baked.  Ratatouille freezes well so it is worth making a larger quantity to store for another time.  It is also surprisingly good cold and the flavours develop more if left overnight in the fridge.  Left over Ratatouille can also be included in a home made mixed leftovers soup, a tasty and economical midweek lunch.  All quantities given in the recipe below should be considered as a rough guide and can be altered to suit personal taste.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Special Ratatouille
(Serves 4-6 depending on size of vegetables)

1 large aubergine, quartered lengthwise & cut into chunks
1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, red or white (more if you like onion)
2 cloves garlic
4ozs/110g mushrooms, quartered or sliced depending on size
2 large courgettes, quartered lengthwise & cut into chunks
1tbsp tomato purée
14oz/400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped
8ozs/225g fresh tomatoes & a little water
1tbsp herbes de provence
1tbsp dried orange rind
½tsp sugar
2 peppers – red, yellow or orange are preferable, sliced
½tsp chopped fresh basil plus a little to garnish (optional)
Salt & ground black pepper (or cayenne pepper)

1.  Layer the aubergine slices in a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt.  Cover with a plate that fits within the colander, add a weight (a tin of beans or fruit) and leave to one side.

2.  Halve and slice the onion(s) and finely chop the garlic.  Cook the onion, garlic and mushroom in olive oil over a low heat until the onion is transparent and soft.

3.  Mix in the tomato purée and well chopped tomatoes (plus a little water if using fresh tomatoes).  Stir in the herbs, dried orange rind, sugar and, if using, lavender and/or cayenne pepper.  Bring to the boil.

4.  Stir in the courgette and peppers with the rinsed courgette.  Add the fresh basil if using.  Season to taste.  Reduce the heat, cover and cook gently for at least 30 minutes. 
It is often considered preferable to cook Ratatouille in the oven with a longer cooking time recommended to allow the flavours to fully develop.  Rather than cooking on the stove top, Ratatouille can be transferred to an lidded ovenproof dish and cooked in a low oven at 170oC/325oF/Gas 3 for about 1 hour.  It is important, though, for the individual pieces of vegetable retain their shape rather than turning mushy. 

5.  However it is cooked, check from time to time adding a little extra water if necessary.

6.  Check seasoning.  Drizzle with a little extra olive oil, garnish with chopped basil and some strands of dried orange rind before serving (optional) .

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