Ratatouille is a French vegetable ragoût from Provence region (originally from Nice). Its name comes from “ratatohla”, a word in Occitan language, still spoken by some people in Southern France. It is the Summer dish par excellence, since all the necessary vegetables don’t leave the French markets – and kitchens – from July till August. Everyone cooks ratatouille in a different way, but there are three main general methods. Some people chop all the ingredients and let them simmer or fry together, others fry them separately and assemble them only before serving. I use a third method, which consists of quick frying of all the vegetables separately (except for the courgette, which gets too mushy), and then putting them in the same pan to finish the cooking process. The French are not fond of hot dishes, so the peppers used in ratatouille are always sweet. Personally, I find a hot version more palatable and always include a couple of chili peppers. Ratatouille is often literally drowned in oil and since I use it very sparingly, I would define mine as “light”.
Ratatouille is usually served as a side dish with grilled fish, meat or an omelet, but it can also be a vegetarian main dish. The amounts of the ingredients depend on your preference (I always put a bit more of courgette, since it is my favourite here). This is one of those dishes, which improve when reheated, so don’t hesitate making a big batch and serving it throughout the week.
Ingredients (serves 5-6 as a main dish and at least 8 as a side dish):
4 tablespoons oil
2 medium aubergines
1 big sweet pepper
1-3 hot chili peppers
2 medium courgettes
6 big tomatoes
4 big garlic cloves
1 big onion
(tomato sauce or concentrate, in case the tomatoes don’t give the desired consistency or taste)
Put the tomatoes in a pan filled with boiling water. Take them out after 10 minutes and cover with cold water.
Peel them, chop them roughly and place in a big pan.
Chop the aubergine in 1-2 cm pieces and put into another bowl.
Slice the onion.
Chop the garlic.
Cut the courgette in half slices or quarters of slices.
Chop the peppers.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil a frying pan. Fry the onion for a couple of minutes and when it starts softening, add the peppers.
Fry both for 5 more minutes.
Transfer the onion and the peppers into the pan containing the tomatoes.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in the same pan, add the garlic and, after 30 seconds, the chopped aubergine.
Fry the aubergine until it starts giving off water.
Transfer it to the big pan.
Add thyme, bay leaves, salt, pepper and let the ratatouille simmer uncovered for 40 minutes.
Add the courgette and let the ragoût simmer for 30 more minutes.