Saturday, May 29, 2010

Red and green ratatouille

The third day of absolutely freezing cold wet windy Wellington weather. Fortunately there's enough food in the house not to have to brave the supermarket. I keep putting off just dashing into the garden for a handful of herbs. Time for something warm and comforting, but I don't feel like making another casserole, and we need to eat more veges. Ratatouille works very well.
           It's a bit late in the year to be making it, but thanks to the fine autumn, last week there were still plenty of red peppers/capsicums, aubergine/eggplant and courgettes/zucchini around. (Interesting how all these relatively recent additions to our vege supply have at least two and often three or more names - French, Italian, English, sometimes American.) I use tinned tomatoes - even in high summer, unless you live somewhere warm and grow your own, we just don't get sufficiently ripe, red, luscious tomatoes. But it works best with plain crushed tomatoes, not flavoured ones.
           I can and still sometimes do make the proper version, using lots and lots of olive oil. But I've also evolved a lighter one that fulfils what Julia Child says is the cardinal principle for this dish: cooking each vegetable separately first, then combining them briefly, to keep the true flavours. The one I made left out the eggplant. Harvey doesn't like it, and while I do, I prefer it cooked by itself in something like eggplant parmigiano. Besides, the colour does look very pretty without it.
           You can make any quantity you like - all that matters is keeping a roughly even balance of veges. For my birthday, two very large brown onions, three large red peppers, three tins of tomatoes and about ten small courgettes, plus garlic and oil, made more than enough to feed 14 people as a side dish. The big white Spanish onions are by far the best to use, but even Moore Wilson doesn't seem to have them any more. If anyone knows how I can get them in Wellington, please let me know.

Revised Ratatouille
Large brown onions - or red ones if you prefer, but peel off the tough outer skins
Extra virgin olive oil
Well-ripened sweet peppers - I like red but you can use orange, yellow, or all three
Small/medium courgettes
New Zealand garlic
Extra virgin olive oil - not Spanish
Black pepper and salt
Sugar (optional)
Flat-leafed parsley

Cut the ends off the courgettes and slice them lengthwise in long even strips, 4-6 strips per courgette (depending how thick they are). Put them in a large bowl, sprinkle them with salt and set aside while you prepare and cook the other veges. (If you want to include eggplant, treat it the same way.) Remove the tops, white bits and seeds from the peppers and slice them in long even strips no more than a centimetre wide. Finely chop the garlic - 2 or more cloves.

Hold a mouthful of water in your mouth while you deal with the onions (I got this tip out of a recipe in the paper one day, and it seems to cut down or even eliminate the tears). Peel, slice off the bottom and the top, and take a downward slice off each side (save these solid bits for soup or something). Slice thinly down through the onion from top to bottom, not across it - the slices will cook better. (I push mine down, side-first, through the slicer blade on the processor.)

Put the onions and garlic and a good gloop of oil (depending on how much onion you have) into a wide shallow ceramic or glass dish and cover for the microwave (I use a rubber and plastic lid, it saves having to use plastic clingwrap). Cook for a few minutes until just tender (I use the "fresh veges" setting). Remove to another bowl and set aside.

Use the same dish to cook the peppers until they're softened but not limp, with another gloop of oil, and set aside. Drain and rinse the courgettes, and cook the same way - no need to add more oil to them, the drops of rinsing water are enough. Be careful to just cook them, they shouldn't be completely limp. You can make it all in advance to this point.

Gently heat a large wide frypan - non-stick is good - with another tablespoon of oil, and put in each vege in alternate layers, sprinkling a little chopped parsley over each layer. Add enough tinned, crushed tomatoes to provide moisture and a good balance of flavours. Heat gently through, and add freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. A very small teaspoon of sugar can be a good addition at this point (especially if the peppers were not deeply coloured and ripe).

This is good by itself with crusty bread, or to go with roast chicken, beef or lamb. It can be served either hot, warm or cold. You can add pieces of fresh lean chicken to any leftovers to make a quick chicken stew, or use it as a pasta sauce.


camelia said...


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AnneE said...

I don't think I will. Your site has way too many gambling ads, and the logo you want me to add is one of those infuriating ones that flashes at people continuously. Thanks, but no thanks.

Mary McCallum said...

Yum. What a gorgeous blog. Two things Anne - 1. where did you get the lovely green plate? 2. please share your eggplant parmagianno dish (I make it and love it and would love to know your version). By the way, Harvey might like melitzanesalata (a fabulous eggplant dip) - I have a great recipe for that (I am thinking about his Greek travel post which I have just read... which led me to your blogs...)

AnneE said...

Thank you, Mary! The plate is a Portuguese one, I used to get them in Auckland (see reply to comment on the pumpkin soup post). I'll email you the recipe - but it's a bit late for this year, not many eggplants around. Sadly, Harvey dislikes eggplant in any form, I've tried them all!

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks Anne - looking forward to it - I had some skinny eggplants for the melitzanesalata - but you're right they might have disappeared by now... I'll make your ratatouille instead. I like the tip about cooking the vegetables separately and only briefly combining at the end. I had my first ratatouille in a field in the Wairarapa at a friend's party. I thought it was divine food - still do.