With summer eeking to a close, much warm-weather produce has already disappeared (for example, peaches, which were available by the crate one week and shockingly gone the next!). But the market is still full of eggplants, peppers and tomatoes — all the veg you need to make one or two last batches of ratatouille.
First of all, why is ratatouille called ratatouille? We turned to our favorite reference book, The Penguin Companion to Food, for an explanation: “In the late 18th century and 19th the name was used in French to indicate a coarse stew. It apparently derived from ratouiller and tatouiller, two expressive forms of the French verb touiller, meaning to stir up.” Early references indicated it was a meat stew, but in the 1930s food writer Heyraud defined it as “‘a ragoût of aubergine with tomatoes, courgettes and sweet peppers.’ …According to him, ‘ratatouille’ was the original name and belonged to Nice.”
I adapted my recipe from Elizabeth David, who says that the vegetables should stew in a bath of olive oil. This image is rather unappetizing, so I’ll leave the amount of oil to your discretion with one caveat: the more (good quality extra virgin) olive oil you use, the better your ratatouille will taste.
1. Olive oil
2. 2 onions, peeled, cut in half and thinly sliced
3. 2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced into strips
4. 2 slender eggplants, cut into cubes
5. 2-3 tomatoes peeled (if you wish) and roughly chopped
In a large, flat skillet, heat the olive oil over medium flame and add the onions. Cook until softened and add the peppers, stirring occasionally, until soft, 4-5 minutes. Add the eggplant and more olive oil if the pan seems dry. Cook 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant has softened slightly. Add the tomatoes, stir to combine, cover and lower flame. Simmer gently for 12-15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and soft. If the pan seems dry, add more olive oil (that’s what Elizabeth David would do) or a dash of water (which is what I do). When the mixture has come together like a stew, it’s done. Add salt and pepper and serve hot, cold or at room temperature.
Five suggestions for eating ratatouille
1. As a side dish to accompany lamb chops, chicken or fish
2. In a sandwich on toasted bread that’s been spread with goat cheese
3. As a pasta sauce — combine the hot ratatouille with 1 lb penne or other cut pasta, adding dashes of pasta cooking water until the mixture is loose and supple. Top with grated parmesan.
4. With polenta, for a fast, cheap and filling supper.
5. Cold, straight from the tupperware, standing in front of the fridge.
How do you eat ratatouille? Leave your ideas in a comment below!