Ratatouille is a very famous dish. When I was a young lad in England the newspapers were full of a peculiarly English scandal. An ex-employee at Claridge's, the signature London hotel for monarchs, had given an interview and had leaked a terrible secret.
The hotel’s secret recipe for ratatouille called for using canned tomatoes! Oh, the shame of it. Needless to say, the French were all full of the German Schadenfreude and clicking their tongues in mock distress. Few may remember this incident but more of you will know that this is the only dish to have inspired a Disney movie of the same name and you may have wondered what it was all about. You are about to find out. It’s simplicity itself. In France, it is really a peasant dish unfit for the Haute tables and for gastronomes. But in the South, in the villages of Provencal France, it was at a time quite ubiquitous and a summery dish cheaply made with local ingredients from the yard and without meat; for peasants.
1 large Sweet Onion chopped
2 shallots minced
2 zucchini squash sliced
2 yellow squash sliced
Medium eggplant sliced (optional)
1 sweet red pepper chopped
1/2 leek chopped (optional)
1 garlic clove chopped
4 ripe tomatoes
1 dry red chili
1 tsp herbs de Provence
2 bay leaves
6 tsp olive oil (EVOO from Provence optional)
1 sprig fresh oregano and/or thyme
Small bunch fresh chives for garnish
Pinch of Spanish saffron
Small bunch of Italian parsley chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large, heavy skillet, saute the squash and the eggplant slices in olive oil on both sides till they begin to have golden brown spots and edges. Drizzle a bit of oil and sprinkle a bit of herbs de Provence and a bit of salt and pepper on each batch. Remove them to a dish This can feel a bit time consuming ( about 10 -15 min) but it is well worth the effort.
Now hear the remaining olive oil and add crushed red chili pepper flakes. After a few seconds add the onions, shallots and leeks and peppers and sauté till the onions begin to clear and add the garlic, the bay leaves, and the remaining herbs de Provence. When the onions clear, add the tomatoes. You could also add a 1/2 can of crushed tomatoes and a tbs of think tomato paste if you don’t mind the censure of purists. Add the fresh oregano and thyme. Now add the sautéed slices and stir gently without breaking them up. add the saffron and cover and simmer gently for about 8 -10 minutes and then uncovered for a few minutes to let the sauce thicken. A splash of wine is quite acceptable. salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with crusty bread or over steaming hot rice with grated cheese on top and a glass or two of Beaujolais.