16 March 2011

Twisted Ratatouille

With multi-hued farm-fresh capsicums as my inspiration, I set off to make one of my all-time comfort foods, ratatouille. Now, there are a million recipes out there for ratatouille, and probably 90% of them would offend the historically correct die-hard ratatouillans, but general consencus is that it has to be a tomato based dish with onions and garlic, herbes de Provence, and vegetables such as courgette and aubergine. 

So you will all be shocked to find that my recipe below does not contain aubergine. It's not because I dislike aubergine, but because I find the recipe far easier to make, more flexible in its use, and more delicate in flavour without it. I also have a couple of illicit ingredients that I think make my ratatouille better than everyone elses (no false modesty around here).

  • 2-3 cups coarsely chopped zucchini (courgette) 
  • 2-3 cups of coarsely chopped capsicum (red, green and in my case, purple pepper)
  • 2 medium purple onions, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 chilli - finely chopped.
  • 1 medium jar tomato passata (or tin of crushed tomatoes)
  • 2 fresh tomatoes - coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste (concentrate)
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp black cumin seeds (or 1/2 tsp cumin powder is a mediocre substitute)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • And the secret ingredient: 1 big glug of sparkling date juice (or if you don't have this magical stuff which is very specific to this region, white wine + 1 tbsp sugar)

  1. Pan-fry onion, garlic and cumin seeds on medium-high until soft, then throw in the date juice to deglaze the pan. 
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to the simmer
  3. turn the heat down, cover and simmer gently for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until the peppers are firm, but soft to bite. 

Don't overcook, because it will turn to mush and lose colour. I use ratatouille as a side dish, a sauce, a bruschetta topping, a relish and a recipe base. You could also add 1 liter of chicken stock and some extra salt, puree half, add it back in and make a soup - I make it up in the bucket-load and freeze it in small tubs, then bring it out as I need it later. The quantities listed here however will make enough for four as a side dish/topping.

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