Ratatouille

I met a friend a few weeks ago at Flour and Stone bakery cafe for lunch.  I had been wanting to try this place out for awhile, as I heard the bakery was scrumptious (and in short, yes it is – go check it out!).  As she had her gorgeous little one with her, we grabbed some take away goods and went and sat in Hyde Park and watched the world go by, gossiping and enjoying the winter sun.

Bread

Yup, its bread. Rye sourdough bread

I had chosen a ratatouille-and-feta filled pie for my lunch, which I was a little unsure about, as ratatouille can sometimes be tart from acidic tomatoes.  Not this time: it was absolutely delicious, and I quickly chomped it down and wished I had bought a second one.  The pie crust was melt-in-the-mouth flaky deliciousness, and the ratatouille and feta filling was dreamy-creamy and packed full of punch and vegetables. Yum.  So I have been dreaming of a good ratatouille ever since…

Ratatouille

Ratatouille

I scoured various cookbooks and the internet for a “traditional” recipe.  Aside from many links to the famous movie, there are hundreds of recipes for ratatouille online and it turns out that ratatouille is not a many centuries old French traditional recipe, but a relatively modern dish from Provence. There are many methods of cooking it, ranging from a quick 20 minute stove top affair to slow cooking six plus hours in the oven, the addition of saffron, balsamic vinegar to 1L of olive oil (yes, I kid you not!), and individually cooking each vegetable with love and care, banging it all together in one pot or pounding the oven finished product with a mortar and pestle.

Being in a cooking mood and having the whole afternoon before me, I decided to go down the slow cooking, rustic route and combine the best bits of the various recipes I had found (whilst also making yoghurt, and a flourless chocolate cake at the same time – sans electric beater – perhaps not the best idea).  I also love eggplant, which turns creamy when roasted.  I actually took two sets of photos of the ratatouille: the first batch were taken halfway through the cooking process, as I was (predictably) running late for a 7pm exit after being distracted by the chocolate cake and we needed a quick bite before we headed out – we ate the rest of our dinner at home around 10pm after the ratatouille had simmered for another couple of hours.  I’m definitely a convert in letting it slowly simmer in the oven (or rest in a hot oven with the lid tightly on so it continues to cook) for another two hours or so.  I decided the first batch of photos wasn’t pretty enough for the blog, so did a slightly more organised assemble tonight.

Ratatouille

The first batch, with zucchini thrown across the top in a hurry

Without further ado, here is the recipe, which provides generous serves for two adults for two evenings.  We ate it with feta crumbed straight into the bowl, with a rye sourdough bread from the Bourke Street Bakery, and some sautéed spinach with garlic on the side.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 medium brown onions, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 kg fresh ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped*
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 capsicums (paprika), sliced into strips
  • 5-6 zucchinis (courgette), sliced in coins 1cm thick
  • 2-3 large eggplants (aubergine), sliced in coins 1cm thick
  • 2-3 dry bay leaves
  • 2 cups water
  • Olive oil, for cooking
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • To serve: Feta, spinach and garlic, bread / brown rice (optional)

Method

  1. Add the onion, with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, to a large heavy bottomed casserole dish (oven proof, with fitted lid) on low-medium heat.  Fry the onions for about 10 minutes until they are soft and translucent (be careful not to burn).  Add the garlic, tomatoes, rosemary and oregano and cook for another 15 minutes until the tomatoes are reduced and their juices evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. While the onions and tomatoes are cooking, add half a tablespoon of olive oil to a frypan over medium heat and cook the capsicums for 4 to 5 minutes until they soften.  Remove from pan.  Repeat with the zucchinis, and then repeat with the eggplant.  You may need to add a few splashes of water to prevent the vegetables from sticking.
  3. Preheat the oven to 120 C.  When the onion and tomato mixture is reduced, remove from heat.  Layer the capsicum on top of the tomato mixture, followed by the eggplant and then the zucchini*.  Add the bay leaves to the dish, and then pour in two cups of water.
  4. Put the lid on the casserole dish, and place it in the oven for 2 to 4 hours at 120C.  Check every hour or so that the liquid has not evaporated completely (it should form a thick sauce by the end of the cooking time, but should not be watery – if its watery, try cooking it again on the stovetop until the water reduces).  The vegetables will be cooked after 90 minutes or so, but you will get the best results after 4 hours – it sounds like a long time, but trust me, its worth it!
  5. Just before you are ready to eat, sauté the spinach with some finely chopped garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil until it is wilted.  Serve the ratatouille in bowls with spinach, and bread (or rice, if gluten free).  Leftovers taste even better on the second day.  Enjoy!

* You may notice for the second batch, I saved one or two tomatoes for the top to assist in styling – see photo of the first batch…. yup.

Ratatouille thumbnail image A creamy-dreamy slow cooked vegetable casserole from Provence… ratatouille 30min

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