Home grown ratatouille

25 Jul

For the first time ever I have managed to grow some aubergines (egg plant, brinjal) in the greenhouse. The one on view here is the third full-sized one I have picked.

Also in the greenhouse are tomatoes and peppers (capsicum). In the garden are three courgette plants now producing. Last week I harvested the onions and garlic. All of which means that I can now cook ratatouille made from ingredients I have grown myself.

I also have seven varieties of chilli in the greenhouse, the most exotic of which is this one, called Loco. They are supposed to go red when ripe and are 30,000 – 50,000 on the Scoville scale, which is about the same as a Scotch Bonnet! I also have some mild Italian ones which are quite large and should be really good roasted, then stuffed with cream cheese. Incidentally, someone on the tele was saying that the seeds in chillies are the hottest part. Absolute nonsense! The seeds are almost entirely without taste.

Anyway here is a recipe for ratatouille:

1: Slice the aubergine in half lengthwise after removing the stalk. Slice the fruit into slices of a bit less than 1 cm. Fry the slices on both sides until brown in a heavy pan with a little olive oil. Remove when cooked and set aside. The flesh soaks up the oil at first, then oozes it out when cooked, so don’t use too much oil.

2: Roughly slice a large onion and gently fry in the pan until just taking colour. Add one green and one red pepper (both roughly sliced) and stir with the onions. After a few minutes add two or three sliced courgettes and two or three sliced garlic cloves. Turn down the heat and cover to allow the vegetable to sweat down for about five minutes.

3: Add a good handful of aromatic herbs, such as a mixture oregano, thyme and sage. Add 500g (a pound) of roughly chopped tomatoes and season with salt and a plentiful amount of freshly ground black pepper. Turn the heat up until the mixture is bubbling away. If you are short of the right kind of tomatoes, use a tin of chopped tomatoes or a carton of passata. Add a squeeze of tomato puree to intensify the taste and thicken the sauce. Add the fried aubergines, turn down the heat, cover the pan and cook for an hour.

4; Ladle large portions into bowls and serve with some warm crusty bread.

If you like you can fry off some pancetta, cooking chorizo or sliced streaky bacon at the beginning of the process, until the oils produced can be used to fry the vegetables in. Remove before frying the vegetables, set aside and add at stage 3.

There will be a few foodies out there tutting that the vegetables will be overcooked and that the tomato skins should be removed. My response is this; ratatouille is a peasant stew, a bit rough and ready. Maybe you have time to skin and de-seed the tomatoes, but I do not, nor would your average peasant. The product is a stew, and needs to be cooked thoroughly to meld the flavours. Nearly raw vegetable in this dish are just that, raw. Slow cooking spreads the flavours throughout. Undercooked ratatouille has unblended tastes and an unpleasant texture. Stuff nouvelle cuisine!

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