Rustle up some ratatouille
As I mentioned in a past post, while on a family holiday to France last September, I was lucky enough to experience an eye-rollingly good ratatouille made by my husband’s lovely aunt Annie. I remember sitting at our enormous outdoor dining table with trusty glass of red wine in hand, and watching in awe as she chopped up the deliciously fresh and vibrant vegetables she’s just picked up from the farmer’s market. The resultant stew was rich, hearty and flavoursome and my husband, in particular, was superlative in his praise, with words like ‘rustic simplicity’ and ‘depth of flavour’ flown around the room for the next half hour.
So I decided it was my turn to step up to the plate, as it were. The eggplants were looking nice and shiny at the supermarket (is it just me, or is anyone else rather fond of tenderly stroking an eggplant? Ok, ahem, moving on then…) I vaguely recalled that we had some zucchinis and tomatoes at home that needed using up, what better opportunity?!
Of course, I couldn’t actually remember how she’d made it, so I was going on a bit of a wing and a disjointed memory prayer. What I did remember, though, was that all Annie’s vegetables were chopped in very neat uniform pieces, so I got mine out and started chopping with care. However it soon became clear that we were on opposite sides of the world when it came to the quality of our produce. Annie’s was a celebration of France’s finest harvest-fresh vegetables bursting with energy and vitality… mine looked like it belonged in a ‘how to use up withered old vegetables’ manual. I only had one slightly sad looking zucchini, half a capsicum that had gone a bit slimy, some soft and squidgy tomatoes, the last onion in the batch with a black bit that needed to be cut out and two small wizened garlic cloves. Even the eggplant I’d just bought was pretty seedy and brown on the inside. I reasoned that an hour and a half of cooking time would surely sort out any deficits in the freshness stakes.
I fried up all my veggies separately until each one started to soften. I’m pretty sure Annie did all hers at once, no doubt knowing at exactly what stage to throw in the next vegetable. But I didn’t have decades of time-honoured French ratatouille tradition to fall back on, and I had my work cut out for me enough trying to save some vegetable stock cubes that Miss M had snaffled from the cupboard and was happily bashing into smithereens.
Once the labour intensive chopping and frying was done, it was really just a matter of cooking up the tomatoes until they got smooshy (given their degenerating state, it didn’t take long) , then adding the rest of the veg back in and simmering away for a period of time, letting
the fresh, healthy any lingering goodness infuse itself through the stew.
After an hour and a half, it smelled great. And tasted… okay. In hindsight I wished I’d peeled my tomatoes first as there were little curled up bits of skin which were slightly unpleasant to the eye (and tongue). And I guess the quality of the produce took its toll (well, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it). The kids didn’t want a bar of it. The husband ate a small portion and said nothing. Looks like we might be waiting til Annie comes to visit later in the year before we eat ratatouille again. (And next time, I’ll take notes.)
Lessons Learnt: Fresh is best.