By Kim Steele
Ratatouille is a wonderfully versatile dish that you can easily fix in under 20 minutes if you follow my method.
I was cooking ratatouille long before I moved to the south of France and discovered that it had a name. I always called it vegetarian spaghetti sauce. I'd go to the grocery store and find the freshest, tastiest looking vegetables available. When I got home I'd put two big solid pots on the stove, one filled with hot water for the pasta, and the other to cook the sauce in. I always started with onions, put them in the pot with a generous amount of olive oil (vegetarians get to do things like that - use lots of olive oil), and than kept chopping vegetables and adding them to the pot as I went. I soon learned the best order to add vegetables to the sauce.
Fussy French Ratatouille
When I got to France I ran out and bought a fancy French cookbook - Larousse de la Cuisine. It is a wonderful book and is now falling to pieces after years of use. Some of the recipes though I find a bit humorous in their complexity and their ratatouille recipe is one of them. It has all of the classic ingredients of ratatouille (onions, bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes), but it requires you to cook each of these ingredients separately before assembling them into another pot. For me, that destroys the charm of ratatouille.
Ratatouille the Easy Way
I always imagine someone stepping from their kitchen out into their vegetable garden on a hot summer afternoon. They pick whatever is ready to be eaten that evening, and that is what goes into the ratatouille. As for cooking it, you really should try my method of chopping as you cook. Ratatouille goes together perfectly like this.
What to serve it with
Ratatouille goes with so many things and you can vary the ingredients (both the vegetables and the herbs) depending on what you have available. Do you remember how in the movie of the same name the rat fancied up ratatouille? You can do the same if you wish. Serve it hot or cold. With an omelette or a vegetable terrine. Serve it on pasta or simply with bread. Sprinkle it with cheese if you wish. The French like it with different meats, poultry and fish. I add hot pepper sometimes. Now that is definitely not French, but it is very good.
Here's my recipe, and please change it as you see fit and don't forget to enjoy all of those lovely vegetables as you are chopping them up. They are gorgeous you know! Bon appetit.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, slivered
3 bell peppers, cut into one inch squares(try different colors)
2 eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Heat olive oil in a heavy soup pot on medium heat. Sliver onions and add to oil.
While the onions cook, chop the bell peppers and add them to the pot, stirring well.
Chop the eggplants and add to the pot, stirring well to coat the eggplant with oil. At this point all the olive oil will have soaked into the eggplant, so you need to stir often to keep things from burning until they soften some.
Chop the zucchini and stir it in once the eggplant has softened a bit.
Chop the garlic and add to the vegetables, stirring well.
Chop the tomatoes and add them.
Chop the thyme and add it along with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and cook two minutes.
Turn down heat and cover the pot. Simmer until everything is soft and well blended - about 40 minutes.
Stir in basil and remove from heat.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Are you interested in learning more about French food and culture? You'll find lots of easy French recipes and fun food facts at http://www.easy-french-food.com I've been living and cooking in France for the past 17 years and would love to share with you my love of simple good food. Don't forget to enjoy your food today.
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