Rowley Leigh talks about the origins of ratatouille in the FT, saying it comes from ‘rata’ which is army slang for food and ‘touiller’ which mearns to stir. When I asked my grandmother how she made ratatouille she scoffed and said: ‘well I get it frozen from Carrefour now!’ After more than 50 years of cooking for her family I think she’s entitled to take a few shortcuts. I grilled her on what she used and ferreted around for some ratatouille recipes, essentially it’s aubergine, courgette, onion, pepper and tomato slowly cooked together. Or not. A lot of recipes say a ‘proper’ ratatouille has each component cooked down separately then mixed together towards the end of cooking. Somehow I don’t think that the old-school French peasant would have had six pans on the go, so I sacked that off.
Instead of cooking everything separately, I added the onions, garlic, aubergine, courgette, pepper and tomato sequentially, allowing each component to soften before adding the next. This method is a bit more sensible and the final product was totally the dreamy ratatouille of my childhood. This recipe makes a huge batch and rightly so, ratatouille tastes better the next day, cold with meats or warmed with pasta or even just on its own. I did discover that if you leave it five days it starts to taste like sweet and sour sauce, so maybe freeze some of it, yeah?
Ingredients (makes about 8 portions)
two aubergines, diced
two red peppers, sliced
green pepper, sliced
two courgettes, sliced
five largish tomatoes
two cloves of garlic, sliced
one onion, diced
Very gently soften the onions in a pan in some olive oil, until they go a bit transparent. While they cook, chop the aubergine into dices and lay the peppers on a gas ring to blacken the skin, turning occasionally. Add the aubergine and sliced garlic and put the lid on, making sure to stir every now and then. When the peppers are blackened all over, put in a plastic bag and set aside. Blanch the tomatoes by cutting a cross in the skin and plunging in boiling water for a minute or so, then refresh with cold water. Use the plastic bag to rub off the skin on the peppers and then slice into smallish strips. Add to the rest of the cooking vegetables and then chop the courgette into chunky half moons and chuck in the pan, if it gets dry add a little water. At this point you want to chuck in some flavourings, you can kind of do a mediterranean free-for-all, I like to add a splash of red wine, some balsamic vinegar, some stock and some herbs. Thyme and parsley are the best and don’t forget salt and pepper. At this point all the veg should be cooked through, so you then want to add the skinned tomatoes, chopped into chunks. You can leave this on a low heat for ages, bubbling away until all the ingredients have gently melted into each other.
Isabelle O'Carroll: I’m a writer, content designer and consultant with 11+ years’ experience across fashion, food and drink and the arts.