France is one of my favourite countries. It has a fantastic range of climates. The North is similar to Britain and much further South you can bask in long, hot days on a azure coastline. In between are miles and miles of beautiful countryside. I even like the way the French can be welcoming and slightly grumpy with you at the same time.
As a keen visitor to France, the cuisine is a huge part of the appeal. Now that I’ve switched to a largely plant-based diet that makes it a bit harder to enjoy the food but there are ways to change some of the dishes. One in particular needs no changes at all though…Ratatouille.
This is something of a national dish so…no pressure…gulp. The key is to cook the vegetables separately before they go in the oven to finish. Because they all have different cooking times, if you fry them altogether then some will go mushy before the others have finished and you’ll have a smooshy mess that isn’t appealing.
I’ve based this on a recipe from Michel Roux Jr.
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 1 aubergine
- 1 red pepper, peeled and deseeded
- 1 large tomato, peeled and seeds removed
- 2 courgettes
- 1 large onion
- 1 whole garlic bulb, finely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 0.5 tsp dried thyme (or one fresh sprig)
- 0.5 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- Peel the pepper with a peeler. Remove the seeds.
- To peel the tomato first put it in a boil and cover with boiling water for about 30 seconds. This makes is much, much easier to get the skin off. Remove the seeds too.
- Cut the aubergine, onion, pepper, courgettes and tomato into roughly 1cm diced cubes.
- Keep them all in separate bowls for now.
- Don’t be too precious about getting them as actual cubes though, Life is too short already.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook off each of the vegetables, except the tomato, separately until they are browned a little.
- Use a slotted spoon to get the vegetables out of the pan before putting another type in. Drain as much of the oil off them as you can and add it back to the pan ready for the next batch.
- A reminder: the reason for cooking them separately is that some cook more quickly than others and if you fry them all together then some of the veg will over cook and become mushy…a common problem with badly done ratatouille.
- Whilst the vegetables are cooking, preheat the oven to 170°C fan (190°C/375°F/Gas mark 5).
- Put all the vegetables, including the uncooked tomato, into an ovenproof dish. Add the chopped garlic, tomato puree, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Give it a good stir then cover loosely with greaseproof paper.
- Pop in the oven, without a lid, for 20 minutes.