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Simple ratatouille is probably the world's most versatile side dish - it goes with anything. I actually am perfectly happy to have it on its own with crusty bread.
Purists of French cooking, look away now. This is a shortcut, a hack, a timesaver, a classic made easy. It's not that I don't know how a ratatouille should be cooked by the book: each kind of vegetable sauteed separately, layered in turn in a casserole that eventually goes in the oven for the flavours to mingle. You can do the migling on the hob but still going through the stages of onions, peppers, courgettes and so on, probably washing the pan after each vegetable. Tomatoes should be the heritage type, scalded and skinned; you should use fresh herbs and by no means add mushrooms. So I admit that this is a completely unorthodox version – but man, is it quick. And easy.
As it happens ratatouille is very much frowned upon anyway in its homeland. It's no more than a 'vulgar' dish, as I learned from an entry on TripAdvisor commenting on an actually very lovely Provençal restaurant. The reviewers were French - which is fine since it's best to trust the natives on food - and they derided what the chef presented as légumes confit referring to it as ‘une vulgaire ratatouille’ Bof bof.
So there is my justification: since the poor dish is thought to be vulgar anyway, no one should take offence if I cut corners, add mushrooms, ketchup and cook it super quickly all in one pan.
The only chore is dicing the vegetables, the actual cooking takes no more than fifteen minutes or thereabouts. The ratatouille benefits from resting a little once cooked so if it is to be a side dish, you can happily cook the fish or meat while it's standing.
Variations (apart from my mushrooms) might include adding meat of some kind: I'd say French Toulouse sausages will be excellent, or lean smoked bacon. It will turn into a French version of shakshuka if you poach eggs in it. Spoon it cold onto a thick bruschetta and grate cheese over it before sliding it under the grill. But frankly, just a crusty baguette alongside a bowlful of ratatouille is nothing to bof at.
ratatouilleServings: 2Time: 30 minutes
- 1 large red pepper or 2 smaller, one red one yellow for vibrant colour
- 1 medium courgette
- 1 small aubergine
- 1 medium onion
- 50g cup mushrooms
- 100g cherry tomatoes
- 2 tbsp.olive oil
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp black mustard seeds
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- ½ tsp dried tarragon
- 1 tbsp.ketchup
- salt and black pepper
1. Core and de-seed the peppers, top and tail the courgette and aubergine, peel the onion. Cut the vegetables in about 2 cm dice (you can really chop them as small or as chunky as you like as long as the pieces are all roughly the same size). Halve the tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan on high-medium heat. Add the onions, cook for a minute on high (as long as they don’t burn or catch) stirring a couple of times, then add the peppers. Cover with a lid and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the mushrooms, stir and cook covered again for a minute or two. Add the courgettes, then the aubergines, and cook covered for 5 minutes.
3. Add the smoked paprika, mustard seeds, thyme and tarragon but hold salt and pepper – salt would draw moisture out and make it too soupy.
4. When the aubergines soften add the tomatoes, stir well and turn the heat down a little. Make sure all the time that the ratatouille is cooking on as high heat as possible without catching on the bottom of the pan.
5. Add the ketchup, salt and pepper, taste and adjust the seasoning. Give it a final stir and take off the heat. Let it stand for a few minutes and serve.