I have a recipe for you. Ratatouille is comfort food – did you know that? It’s a tomatoey-warm Mediterranean-healthy olive-oily comfort food. I learned to make it when I was an au pair for a posh family back in 1994. (I also lived with a posh family when I studied in Avignon in 1989. And Sir’s grandparents were also posh. I’ve learned a lot about cooking and folding clothes from these people).
Do you know where the word posh comes from? It means “Port Out, Starboard Home” and was used when traveling from England to India. That was the preferred position of the cabins (afforded by the wealthy) since that was where the shade was found.
And you want shade when going to India.
But we were talking about ratatouille now, weren’t we?
I learned the hard way that watery ratatouille is not at all desirable and so you should leave it uncovered while it’s cooking. I also learned that you cannot leave the skin on tomatoes or you’ll be chomping on wiry rolls of tomato skin, which completely ruins the dish.
So let’s talk about what to do, shall we?
Oh! The red one was pregnant. Excuse me, ma’am.
While the onion-pepper mix is frying, dice your eggplant.
Now it’s time for the herbs. Truthfully I don’t like the herbes de provence that you’re supposed to use because the thyme doesn’t soften at all and sort of stands out among the soft vegetables. If you’re finicky and want to do this properly you could put 2 tablespoons of herbes de provence in cheesecloth, which you would then remove at the end. But if you’re finicky then you should really be cooking all the vegetables separately in four different pots. Ugh. Who wants to do that?
I’m not finicky so I’ll just add 2 tablespoons of fresh basil and a half tablespoon salt (adjust according to preference).
And here’s the clincher: 2 cans of diced tomatoes in their juice. I think they were about 400 grams each. That way you don’t have to de-skin the tomatoes yourself. And in my humble opinion, it adds the perfect amount of tomatoey-ness to the ratatouille.
At this point it’s taken me a half hour since I first started frying the onions until now and I’m going to cook it for about another half hour with all the ingredients added. An hour total should be enough, even if not all the veggies got in at the same time. But don’t you like that multi-tasking trick of chopping as you go?
Make sure you use a large and deep skillet (frying pan). It won’t work in a wok or sauce pan – the heat is not spread out enough and the ratatouille will become too liquidy. So basically you kind of need to stick around in the kitchen and stir it often. If you see that there is too much liquid, turn the heat up. If you see that it’s starting to stick on bottom, turn the heat down.
And then you can do some other amazing multi-task thing while your ratatouille is cooking, like help your kids with their homework.
Or clean the dishes that you never got around to last night.
If you have no idea what to serve it with, I recommend it as a side dish to lamb or beef. But, you know, the French are so into vegetarian dinners (unless you are entertaining). They are quite vigilant about it. There are even random police raids to check that there is no meat in sight after 2pm. So it’s not a bad idea to have some vegetarian dinner ideas on hand.
Hm. Why not make some quinoa?
At the risk of insulting your intelligence, I will say that most grains are cooked the same way. Measure out a cup (double if having guests), and fill the saucepan with water. Swirl the grains with your fingers like so.
Pour the water out very slowly and any grain that floats and gets poured out is something you would want to remove anyway. With the exception of white rice, most grains are 3 cups of water to 1 cup of grain, quinoa included.
And simmer til the water is absorbed. It takes about 20 minutes or so.
I’ll bet even your kids (or your picky spouse) will eat it.
- 3 medium onions
- 4-6 large cloves garlic
- 6 Tablespoons olive oil
- 3 bell peppers
- 2 medium eggplants
- 4 small zucchini
- 2 Tablespoons basil
- ½ Tablespoon salt (adjust accordingly)
- 2 cans diced tomatoes in juice, 400 grams each
- Chop the onions and garlic.
- Stir-fry them with the olive oil in a large skillet.
- While that's frying, chop the peppers and add them.
- Then chop the eggplant and add them.
- Then peel stripes off the zucchini, chop and add them.
- Add the basil, salt and the 2 cans of tomatoes.
- All of this should take you a half hour or so.
- Cook the ratatouille for another half hour until all the vegetables are tender.