When did ratatouille disappear? I can't remember the last time I saw it here, but in France it can still be found on many a menu. The ripe tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines and peppers (all technically fruits), are cooked to a velvety texture on the edge of collapse. The flavour is heady with garlic and basil. It is too good to be consigned to the scrap heap.
2 onions, sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 aubergines, thickly sliced
2 courgettes, thickly sliced
2 red or yellow peppers, seeded and quartered
4 plum tomatoes, sliced
2-3 sprigs thyme
1 handful basil leaves
Sweat 2 sliced onions in 4 tbsp of olive oil until they are soft, add 4 sliced garlic cloves and cook until soft. Remove to a deep roasting tin or baking dish. Fry each of the other vegetables separately, adding more oil as necessary, until each is pale gold. Remove as each one is ready and add to the tin or dish, followed by 4 thickly sliced plum tomatoes, seasoning with salt, black pepper and thyme. Bake at 180C/gas mark 4 for about 40 minutes until soft and tender. Stir gently with a handful of torn basil leaves and serve.
The trickOne reason ratatouille may have lost favour is because it is too often cooked like a stew, with all the ingredients lumped in together. It takes longer to cook them separately, but the individual attention allows each ingredient to keep its own character. You end up with layers of flavour rather than a casserole. Like quiche, this is better served warm than hot.
The twistI often make leftover ratatouille into a savoury pie. A crumble top of flour, butter, thyme leaves and grated cheese forms a suitable contrast to the soft ingredients underneath. I also like it cold, as a salad. So versatile is this mélange of summer ingredients that it often ends up as a pasta sauce, working well with larger, tube-shaped pastas. I have also seen it cooked in tiny metal moulds and turned out to form a neat mound on the plate with a surrounding drizzle of tomato sauce and perfectly positioned basil leaves. In which case it might be better called rata-twee.
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