Home food: ratatouille by Natacha Lee, Gisborne
By Natacha Lee, Gisborne
Kiwis eating food grown and produced within a 200 km radius for 30 days of April in the Happyzine Eat Local Challenge.
Home food: ratatouille
It is quite well known that the french love their food. I remember sitting around the lunch table with friends one day, everyone intensely engaged in the best way to make ratatouille. A ratatouille is basically a panful of cooked summer veggies. Sounds fairly simple, and in fact a lot of the well known french dishes (think “coq au vin” or “gratin dauphinois”) are easy enough dishes to cook at home. Until you ask a french person.
Every region in France has its set of culinary specialties, like a lot of countries in the world actually. These dishes are an expression of where they came from, of a culture and a people that lived on them. Most of them make use of whatever would have been easily available: potatoes in the north, seafood on the coasts, wild game in the interior, etc.. What makes them so special is that they are not just food, they carry an identity with them, which is why we french are so passionate about these dishes. They are our heritage.
In provence, where I come from, ratatouille is a pretty standard dish and everyone will have a say about the best way to cook a good one. If you want to cook a true ratatouille, and a really tasty dish, you need to cook each vegetable separately and in a particular order before mixing it all together. I am not joking. each vegetable will retain its own flavour and trust me you can really tell. The other trick is that you want each flavour to be well balanced with the others so that no vegetable over shadows the rest of the dish. Now that’s trickier and to be honest I never strictly follow that rule. I mainly use what I have available. This time round, I could only find a tiny eggplant and even tinier capsicum in the garden and decided to add butternut and broccoli (a real ratatouille uses zucchini, eggplant, capsicum, tomato, onion and garlic). Big “non, non”. But I will give you a recipe from my precious little south of France cookbook: “Quand nos grand meres cuisinaient en Provence” (“When our grand mother cooked in Provence”):
Ratatouille (serves 6)
– 4 eggplants
– 4 zucchinis
– 4 green capsicums
– 1kg fresh tomatoes
– 2 big onions
– 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
– 1 bay leaf
– 3 or 4 pinches of parsley
– 1 pinch of rubbed thyme
– few basil leaves, chopped
– 2 tarragon twigs
– olive oil
– a handful of green olives
Wash the vegetables. peel and take out seeds of the tomatoes, cut in quarters. Peel eggplants and zucchini, dice. Remove seeds from capsicums and cut in strips. Mince onions in strips.
Heat 6 or 7 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and cook the zucchini until golden. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan and drain.
In the same pan, cook the eggplants in the same way until golden (you may need to add olive oil). Remove and drain. Proceed in the same way for the capsicums.
Finally, sweat the onions with 3 tablespoons of olive oil until golden, ass the tomatoes, garlic, thyme, basil, bay leaf and tarragon. Cook until reduced by close to half.
Add all the vegetables back into the pan (or transfer in a big pot if the pan is too small), add the olives, mix well and cook on low heat for about 15mn. Check the seasoning, pour the ratatouille in a dish and sprinkle with parsley.
This dish can be eaten hot or cold depending on the seasons.
(Translated from french)