There is only one time of year to make ratatouille and it’s NOW!
The summer vegetables that make up this dish are in season, British grown, super tasty and at their cheapest. At any other time of year, ratatouille becomes a very expensive dish of imported flavourless vegetables, really not good.
Ratatouille Niçoise is a recipe from Provence and this one is Elizabeth David’s recipe from Nice (she is the best French food writer!). I have altered one ingredient though: the tomatoes. Elizabeth’s recipe calls for those big, fat, ripe, red tomatoes, but even though we’re in the height of the British tomato season, I’ve never seen a tomato like that here and the large red ones from the supermarket are nowhere near as good. So, next best option is to use baby plum tomatoes - they have bucket loads of sweetness.
As Elizabeth David says, this is a dish of ‘aubergines, tomatoes, onions and peppers stewed in oil’ and it is amazingly good with hunks of fresh bread dipped into that sweet savoury stewed olive oil. But bizarrely, it’s not oily, just luscious.
You need an afternoon to make this recipe, but on the plus side you can make a lot. It’s one of those dishes that get better every time you reheat it.
Miraculous ingredients: red, yellow and orange peppers, Santini baby plum tomatoes (M&S sell this variety), basil, extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, finely sliced
2 large aubergines
2 peppers (red, yellow or orange), cut into thin strips
400g baby plum tomatoes, cut in half
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
20g fresh basil, chopped
200ml extra virgin olive oil
Cut the aubergines and courgettes into thick slices (approx. 2cm) and then into large cubes. Use salt to get rid of as much moisture as possible – layer the cubes into a colander and sprinkle a lot of salt on each layer. Put the colander in the sink or place a dish underneath to catch the drips. Put a plate with a weight (I used my stone pestle & mortar) on top of the aubergines and courgettes in the colander so the excess moisture is pressed out. Leave for an hour.
Place a large pot (that also has a tight fitting lid) on a medium heat and add all the olive oil. Add the finely sliced onions and gently fry until soft, but not brown. Rinse off the aubergines and courgettes to remove the excess salt, add to the pot and stir well. Add the sliced peppers, chopped garlic and stir.
Put the lid on the pot, turn the heat to low and gently cook for 40 minutes. Add all the halved tomatoes and cook for another 30 minutes until all the vegetables are soft, but not mushy.
Turn off the heat and stir through with the chopped basil.
Preparation time 10 minutes, salting time 1 hour, cooking time 1hr 15 minutes, serves 6