Ratatouille Provençale (from French Brasserie Cookbook by Galmiche, 2011)
It’s important to maintain a balanced diet, and it is in that spirit that I chose a very healthy main course to balance out the very unhealthy dessert I was fixated on making for when my parents came to visit.
I have to admit, I wasn’t exactly excited about making ratatouille. I was sceptical that it would have any real flavour. Watery vegetables, oil and seasoning doesn’t seem like the most appetising of meals, and I’m the kind of girl that panics if there’s no delicious, juicy hunk of meat on my plate (unless I’m eating dessert – I’m unaware of any meat-based desserts, but if you know of one please tell me, I’m willing to try it). In short, the recipe radiates HEALTH out of every letter on the page, and in my head HEALTH < FUN.
I finally got to try something I’ve only ever seen on Masterchef: peeling tomatoes. How many times have I watched a procession of Holby City and Hollyoaks actors on that programme, trying to peel tomatoes with a potato peeler? The words potato and tomato might look half similar, but surely any cretin can tell that attacking a tomato with a potato peeler is going to result in a gory slasher movie-esque red splatter to the face? I was pretty surprised at how quick and easy the method is. But what nobody tells you is that you have absolutely no power over a tomato once it is peeled. Try to hold it, grip it, cut it; just try it. Peeled tomatoes have been released from their strait-jacket and have a mind of their own, and they are intent on pure chaos.
French chef Joël Robuchon is on record saying “The secret of a good ratatouille is to cook the vegetables separately so each will taste truly of itself“. Well that’s great for you Mr Professional-Kitchen-With-At-Least-5-Hobs, but for us mere mortals bunging it all into one casserole will do just fine. The recipe said 1.5 to 2 hours to simmer, but mine only took an hour. I’m not sure whether it’s the cast iron casserole or that I had the heat on the lowest setting but on the strongest hob ring. The chopped vegetables had started to mush, the caramelising onions were releasing a sweet smell and turning the oil a rich spicy orange, and my stomach was rumbling so it must have been ready.
I should have trusted that the people of Provence know how to make healthy tasty. I served it with plain boiled long grain rice, which soaked up the oil and whose plainness perfectly complemented the sweetness of the vegetables, which were bursting with delicious flavour. So what if there’s no juicy hunk of meat, I’m happy to make this again and again.
1 aubergine (eggplant) / 1.5 average sized courgettes (zucchini) / 400g tomatoes / 1 red pepper / 1 green pepper / 1 onion / 4 garlic cloves / 100ml olive oil / Sprig flat-leaf parsley / Sprig thyme / Salt & pepper / Basil leaves
Peel & chop aubergine into chunks / Chop courgettes into chunks / De-seed and slice red & green peppers / Chop onion / Crush garlic cloves / Boil pan of water / Pour ice & cold water into a bowl / Score an X in the bottom of tomatoes with a knife / Put into boiling water until skin starts to peel off (about 30 secs) / Drop straight into iced water for 5 mins / Peel, de-seed and chop into chunks / Heat olive oil in casserole on medium heat on biggest hob ring / Add prepared veg & sprigs of parsley & thyme / Turn down heat & partially cover with lid for 1 hour / Season / Serve with torn basil leaves over rice, pasta, crepes, whatever you like