What might surprise people about traditional Provençale cuisine is that it tends to be pretty simple. Often times it’s about throwing things into a pot for an hour and letting the miracle invention of fire – better known today as your stove – do the work.
Ratatouille is no exception. Everyone who is a Pixar fan was introduced to this dish through the movie of the same name, and I have no doubt that after the movie millions Googled the recipe. But did you get the right recipe? The traditional recipe? Le vrai Ratatouille?
So what is in a Ratatouille and how is it really made?
- 4 tomatoes, boiled, peeled
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 medium zucchini
- 1 red pepper
- 1 yellow pepper (or green)
- 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
- fresh basil
- fresh rosemary
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 black olives (kind of optional)
First take care of your tomatoes. Dice them up. Wash and dice all vegetables.
In a large pot, or the biggest frying pan you have, heat up 2 tbsp olive oil and cook your onion until soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and cook over medium heat about 10 minutes until everything is browned.* Add tomatoes, basil, rosemary, garlic and the last 2 tbsp olive oil. Turn heat to low – as low as you can go – and cover. Cook for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add olives at the last 10-15 minutes. Serve warm.
That’s all. It’s more of a slow cooked vegetable stew. Don’t skimp on the olive oil, add more if you so desire. Use the best you have. The better it is, the more it will add to the flavor of the vegetables.
The origins of the name ratatouille have their roots in the word ragoût, which comes from the French phrase “raviver le gout” which means revive the taste. As a ragoût is a type of sauce or gravy that helps to enhance the taste of the meat, I find the name ratatouille rather fitting – we’re not reviving the taste of meat here however, we are reveling in the taste of slow cooked, well seasoned fresh vegetables.
But this is not one of your ancient provençale dishes. It can’t be. And the reason for this is that the majority of these vegetables, so loved by provençale and French cuisine, wasn’t introduced to the country until the 16th century. Tomatoes, being part of the nightshade family, were feared by Europeans and it’s thought that the final ratatouille dish, as we know it today didn’t come into being until the late 1700′s.
The best thing about ratatouille it that it goes with EVERYTHING. Fish, chicken, beef, lamb, on pasta, on rice, mopped up in a fresh baguette, sausage, cheese. You name it. It’s even fabulous as a cold lunch the second day.
On a rainy, late spring day, when I was wrapped up in bed with a glass of Saint Emilion and my novel, this was a perfect pairing with socca, a few slices of sabrosade and of course, cheese.
Enjoy it while watching re-runs of Top Chef and be proud that you can cook some thing so simple, flavorful and filling. A dish that is beloved by all of Provence.
*As a side note: if you’re feeling really ambitious a true ratatouille cooks each vegetable separately for about until soft and then combines them all together into one large pot to reheat for about 30 minutes with the herbs. I recommend it only if you have time to kill and want to impress people with your incredible vegetable cooking skills.
Did you look up the recipe for ratatouille after seeing the movie? Did you see the movie? Could you get over that there were rats in the kitchen?