(adapted from recipes in The Frugal Gourmet and Alice Waters’s recipe in the Hong Hong Star newspaper)
This makes the best ratatouille I’ve ever tasted. Huge claim, I know. Okay, truth be told I haven’t tried that many variations because this one is so good I don’t see any reason to stray far from it. It is slobberingly scrumptious.
It’s a combination of a recipe from the 1984 edition of The Frugal Gourmet and a recipe I clipped from the 1996 Hong Kong Star newspaper that featured an Alice Waters’s (of Chez Panisse) adaptation of Julia Childs’s recipe. Sometimes it seems that the culinary world tweaks everything in sight. In keeping with that I adapted it further by using the best bits of both, plus tweaking the cooking times a bit further. We like our veg to hold its shape and flavour, not become bland mush from overcooking. Many ratatouille recipes overcook the vegetables so that it becomes a tomato-based stew where all the flavours become the same. This one is different because it’s fast-cooking and the cubes of vegetables are all roughly cut to the same size so that everything requires the same amount of time to cook.
The basic ingredients are seeded tomatoes, eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), capsicums (red, orange and yellow capsicum peppers), onion or large shallots, garlic, a generous fistful of fresh basil and dried chilli flakes. I had some celery in the fridge, so I used that also, and I added halved pitted black olives, too. I also started it all off by frying (a small package) diced/cubed lardons, using the fat to sauté the onion and celery. One recipe wants the tomatoes peeled and seeded, and the other doesn’t mention that at all. I seeded them but left the peel intact for colour and extra flavour.
· Prep the eggplant first by cutting it into 2cm cubes and salting well. Toss and allow to drain whilst resting in a strainer. Discard the liquid as it’s apt to be bitter and salty.
· Prep all the remaining vegetables, cutting them into 2cm cubes or chunks.
· Arrange the cubed veg on a large plate so you can slide the next ingredient into the pot in order listed in ‘Method’.
· If your tomatoes are a bit lean on flesh, add a tablespoon of tomato paste and stir it into the ratatouille mixture.
1 small package of smoked lardons
1 eggplant or aubergine (medium) cut into 2cm square cubes
1 rib of celery cut into 2cm square cubes
1 large yellow onion or 4-5 large shallots cut into 2cm square cubes
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
a large handful of basil with stems, tied into a bunch
1 teaspoon dried chilli pepper flakes
1 large zucchini or courgette cut into 2cm square cubes
4 large ripe seeded tomatoes (plum or cherry are ok also) cut in 2cm square cubes
chopped basil for garnish
Salt the cubes of eggplant evenly and generously, and allow to drain in a sieve for 20-30 minutes.While the eggplant is draining, fry the lardons, and then set the crispy, browned cubes aside but retain the fat in the pan. Pat the eggplant chunks dry with a paper towel, and then fry in a medium-hot pan until golden on all sides. Keep it moving in the pan so it doesn’t burn. Remove the eggplant to a plate lined with paper towelling to absorb the fat. Add more oil if needed, and then add the onion and celery chunks to the hot pan, stir and cook 5-7 minutes until the onion is translucent. Quickly add the sliced garlic, and stir. Now add the chilli flakes and a bit more salt, and stir. Add the tied bunch of basil, stir. Cook for 2-minutes. Stir in the capsicum pepper chunks, cook 2-minutes. Stir in the zucchini/courgettes, cook for 2-minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, stir well by folding ingredients from the bottom of the pan to the top very gently. Cook for 4-5 minutes. Now add the eggplant/aubergine chunks, stir gently, and cook for 8-10 minutes on low heat uncovered until all ingredients are semi-firm but fork-tender. Serve warm with fresh, crusty bread or buttered pasta.