Sometimes it’s good to go back to the classics. My Crop Drop bag this week was overflowing with red onions, courgettes and aubergines and so, despite being a little early in the season, had ratatouille written all over it.
I have memories of rather bland ratatouille as a child growing up (sorry mum) but I learnt, at some point in my 20s, maybe whilst living in France, that ratatouille should be a dish to shout about!
Each ingredient for this classic Provencal dish needs to be given due attention; the courgettes and aubergines need to be browned separately in olive oil, the onions and peppers sweated down until sweet with garlic and aromatics and then tomatoes (fresh in the summer, tinned earlier in the season) added until deliciously rich. The whole lot then cooked together until the flavours meld and intensify and ideally made the day before it’s eaten; so it’s not exactly a ‘chuck it in a pan’ affair. And that takes time. But it’s well worth it to produce a wonderful intense stew of vegetables that are perfect as a side dish, on crostini, as a pasta sauce or on a tart.... the options are endless!
My method uses the oven and the stove to cut some of the cooking time down but not lessen the flavour. Look out for the recipe coming later on my website. Here pictured in my heirloom Le Creuset pan.
1 large aubergine (around 450-500g), cut into 1.5cm cubes
2 courgettes (around 450-500g), cut into 1.5cm cubes
1 red pepper, cut into quarters lengthways and then into 5mm strips
2 medium red onions, finely sliced into half moons
150ml extra virgin olive oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Handful of thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 tin chopped tomatoes (or 400g of very ripe tomatoes in the summer)
Salt and black pepper
Fresh basil or oregano
Preheat your oven to 175°C and line 2 baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment
Using your hands, toss the diced aubergine with 2 tbsp of the oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. The aubergine will absorb the oil but this is fine. Now lay the cubes across one of the baking sheets. Treat the courgette exactly the same way and add to the other baking sheet. Roast in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until golden.
Meanwhile, add 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil to a medium frying pan. Once hot, add the sliced onion, red peppers, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and a pinch of salt. Cook on a low to medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring regularly until reduced in volume and soft. Then add the grated garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes. Now add the tomatoes and a pinch more salt. Cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down and begun to turn pulpy.
Now add the roast courgettes and aubergines to the pan along with any oils and juices that have leaked out. Add the remaining 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, a little more salt and black pepper and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes until thick and rich with flavour.
Top with torn basil or oregano leaves. Serve warm or at room temperature.