Monday, 26 March 2012

The Ultimate Ratatouille

Ratatouille, the Provencal vegetarian concoction, must be the most overrated dish in the world. Animated Parisian mice cook it, restaurants the world over are named after it, and even Nando's (a Portuguese themed - not even French, for crissake - chicken restaurant chain) have it on their menu as a side dish.

Chuck some mushy, watery vegetables into a mushy, watery sauce, and you have a mushy, watery stew. With no meat in it. Big deal.

Ah, but if you take the time to drive the naturally occurring water out of the components of the dish, before you put it all together, you now have something I could be tempted to write a rodent-inspired CGI film script about, or maybe even eat with my piri-piri chicken.

Driving the natural water out of the ingredients is really what cooking this dish is all about. It concentrates the flavours, creates interesting textures and allows other flavours to penetrate. Sometimes, you want water and vitamins (which are killed off by long cooking - if you believe the nutritionists, which I do maybe 50/50) to be retained in your cooked vegetables, but not in ratatouille. If you eat this dish, you may want to take a multivitamin tablet to make up for the lost niacin and riboflavin, but please roast the vegetables until only their essences remain.

Now ratatouille is my favourite vegetable dish in the world. I even occasionally eat it without a side order of meat (that's something I can't say about salad).

You are well under your Potless budget with this one - £1.25 per serving is the cost. Enough left over to buy some chicken.

Serves 4


1 aubergine, sliced into 1cm thick dice
2 courgettes, sliced into 1cm thick rounds
1 large onion, cut into eighths
1 large sweet pepper, cut into 1cm wide strips
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
400g chopped plum tomatoes, plus 1 extra can of water
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of dried basil
Pinches of salt and pepper

Place the aubergine, courgettes, onion and pepper in a bowl with the oregano and half of the olive oil. Mix well and transfer to a baking tray. Ensure that the vegetables are in a single layer, and roast in a 200C oven, turning once, until charred, soft and translucent (approx 1 hour). While the vegetables are roasting, Place the rest of the oil, the tomatoes, water, garlic and salt and pepper into a saucepan and cook on a moderate heat until the water has evaporated and the sauce has thickened (approx 45 minutes). Take the roasted vegetables out of the oven and transfer them to the sauce. Fold through the sauce until everything has amalgamated. 

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