Ratatouille! Or, Summer’s Almost Gone…

Disclaimer:  I’m not the photographer in this family.  So most of the pictures in the following post are pretty awful.  However, I think that adds something special to the whole experience, don’t you?!

I’m a weird vegan (no – not redundant, thank you very much).  Until recently, I had a pretty hard time with quite a lot of vegetables.  Over the years, though, my tastes have changed, and I’ve learned to love lots of the ones I heretofore abhored.  But I’ve still got some quirks:

  • I love guac, but hate avocados.  So I usually mash ’em up with salt and pepper and lemon (and cilantro and hot sauce if they’re on offer), and I do just fine.
  • I love tomatoes, but not raw…unless they’re in a salsa or bruschetta (I told you I was weird).
  • I love mushrooms, but only the forest ones from France and occasionally shitake or portabello.  Not often.  And never, never button mushrooms.  Blech.
  • I only recently started tolerating eggplant (aubergine).  More on this below.

I think that’s about it.  Still, even with my disclaimers around the humble tomato, I cannot live without them.  I simply don’t know how.  I’m from SoCal.  We always had tomatoes when I was growing up, either from my mom’s vegetable patch or from the store.  But in semi-rural France, tomatoes in the winter is a very new concept, indeed, and owing to the fact that everything is labeled, we’re reminded that the tomatoes we eat in the winter are grown in industrial serres – greenhouses – mostly in Spain – and literally loaded with all sorts of not-very-nice things to make them grow when they’re really not supposed to.

So we felt a bit guilty about that, and decided that this year we’d make as many pots of tomato sauce during the summer as possible and freeze them for the winter.  We’ve done pretty well so far:

Mmm…spaghetti.

Then two things happened:

  1. The weather went really cold, really fast, and
  2. Chris’ dad gave us a marrow.  In the UK, marrow refers to a zucchini that’s allowed to grow to its full size.  In England and France, zucchini (or summer squash) are referred to as courgettes – little courges – and courge, of course, just means squash!  All very confusing.  Anyway, we needed to cook that sucker, and we’d only just finished the last one he gave us.

So Chris suggested we make some ratatouille to freeze down with the sauce we’d made.  Why not?!

However, it should be noted that making a crapload of ratatouille, while ridiculously easy, takes time, owing mostly to the extraordinary amount of chopping one must do to bring those jars to fruition.  I thought I’d take you along for the ride, and provide you with the recipe as well.

Bear in mind that if you want to make a reasonable portion of the stuff, you’ve only got to divide the portions I’ve provided below accordingly.

Without further ado, I bring you one of many thousands of recipes on the interweb for Ratatouille, complete with lots of little tips for those of you who maybe could use a tip or two!

(I’m looking at you, Mr. Zografos.)

Serves 12-ish

Ingredients

  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 3 large or 6 small brown onions
  • 5-6 peppers of your choice, depending on size
  • 10-15 roma tomatoes (I used 12)
  • 1 marrow or 6 medium-sized zucchinis
  • 6 eggplants (Although I used four.  Because I don’t like them that much.)
  • 30 black olives
  • salt
  • pepper
  • thyme
  • herbes de provence
  • olive oil

Preparation

If you’re like me, you like a pristinely clean kitchen before you start a lengthy endeavor such as this one.  The kitchen is also going to be a complete tip once you are done, and the person who didn’t cook the ratatouille will obviously be the person who should have to clean it up.  Therefore, since you’re the one who’s going to make the ratatouille, and since you’re so nice, you should get afore-mentioned person-who-isn’t-making-ratatouille to tidy it up for you first.  It will really make their job so much easier in the end, won’t it?

Right.  Now that’s done, let’s move on.

As previously mentioned, the first thing you’ll need to do is a whole lotta chopping.  So let’s start there, shall we?

1. The Garlic:

At ten cloves, you might as well go ahead and count on using up a whole rose.

2. The onions:

Tip!  Gentle Reader, do onions make you cry?  Well cry no more!  Follow these three earth-shattering steps, and you’re on your way to a tear-free onion-cutting experience!

  • Firstly, do not think about sad things!  And if you’re like me, also do not think about things that make you really, really happy.  Or angry.  Let’s just keep those emotions on kilter, mm-kay?
  • Secondly, wear glasses.
  • Finally, do not touch your eyes until you’ve washed your hands!

Et voila! You, too, can look smugly impressed with yourself as you chop your last onion!

3. The olives:

30 olives works out to about 1/2 a can or jar. This does not mean, however, that one must eat the remaining 30 or so olives whilst cooking.

4. The peppers:

Red are my fave’s for ratatouille, and red and green are the norm, but use whichever you like best!

5. The Marrow:

Tip!  If you do choose to use a marrow, peel and seed the sucker.  Zucchinis might be lovely in their entirety, but marrows are decidedly not.

I forgot to take a picture of it whole before I started chopping. You’re gonna have to trust me – it was big.

6. The Eggplant:

Best tip ever!  Eggplant used to totally gross me out.  Then I learned about salting!  So, apparently one of the reasons eggplant was so icky was because it was bitter.  And while some people like bitter foods, I do not.  Here’s what you do:

Chop your eggplant and put it into a colander, on top of a plate with ridges or a bowl. Cover the eggplant in salt – as in a LOT of salt. I used about 3 tablespoons here. Don’t worry – it doesn’t make it salty – and you can rinse it after it’s done if you like just to make sure.

Put something heavy directly on top of the eggplant. In the Philippines I’d put a gallon bottle of water. Here, I’ve used a cast-iron pot my mother-in-law bought for us.

After 10-15 minutes, you’ll see that the eggplant is starting to deposit this murky liquid onto the plate. I dumped three plate-fulls of this horrible stuff! Boo-yah! Bitter taste annihilated!

7. The tomatoes:

Tip!  When we lived in England, the tomatoes were gross.  That is because they were imported from far away, and selectively bred to turn red before they were ripe.  Ergo, slicing into what looked like a delicious, ripe tomato was not unlike slicing into an apple.  Here we buy local tomatoes, so that’s good, but they do smoosh a bit when you cut them, even if you have a decent knife – am I right?  Use a serrated knife, like a bread knife or a steak knife, and bingo!  No more smooshed tomatoes!

Hooray!  The chopping is done!  All the ingredients are at the ready:

Next, you’ll need to choose your pot.  You’re going to want to do a lot of stirring, so it’s a good idea to use a pot that’s big enough to allow you to turn the mix without making a mess of that freshly-cleaned stove.

What a whole lotta pot.

While olive oil’s not always the best bet for cooking, this particular dish is so overwhelmingly Mediterranean, you can’t use anything else.  If you do, you will be scorned by beautiful people with dark hair and olive skin.  Let a liberal amount glug out onto the bottom of your pot – say 8-10 tbsp for the portions we’re working with.

Olive oil.  I have nothing else to say about this.

Set the heat at medium-high or thereabouts.  Then add your onions and garlic, and coat them well with the oil.

The start of something magical.

This is when I add the herbes de provence.  I use about two tsp – about this much:

Turn it all over and let it simmer until the onions and garlic have gone transluscent.  Then add the peppers and turn it again.  At this point, you just keep on adding ingredients.  I actually took pictures of each ingredient being added and then realized that was a bit over the top.  But make sure you’re stirring it all up as you add the ingredients.  Make sure also that your stirring device is sturdy, because mine almost broke.  When you’ve added all the ingredients and stirred them sufficiently, you’ll have a glorious pot of stuff that you can totally walk away from…for like ten minutes.

You’ll need to turn it regularly, because otherwise the stuff at the bottom will cook and the stuff at the top won’t.  If you’re only making enough for four, it should only take 20 minutes to cook and you’ll need to turn it every 3-5 minutes.  For a portion this big, I turned it every 10 minutes for 70 minutes total.

Here’s how it looked at forty. I let Chris try it. His face made me tell him it was okay to spit it out. He did. Then he said, “More cooking.”

I was antsy – I didn’t want it to be overcooked.  I think this will have a lot to do with your stove, your cooking pot, and maybe even your altitude (no kidding!).  So your best bet is to just keep checking not less than every 10 minutes.

Bon Apetit! Oh, no wait – we don’t get to eat this now. Cue sad faces all around.

We do at least get to taste it, though.

Survey says…

Nice try, Yankee.

No, but seriously…he said it was delicious.  He just wasn’t too keen on modeling for my post.

Where were we?  Oh yes!  Standing in front of a massive pot of scrumptious food nobody gets to eat for the next 2 months at least!

Which brings me to my next…
Tip!  If you’re planning to freeze it, you’ll need to let it cool down to room temperature.  Do not leave it covered while it cools!  If you must cover it because of flies or something, make sure ample air can get in.  Otherwise you’ll seriously run the risk of getting sick.

Next you’ll want to put it into your fancy mason jars:

But wait!

One last final tip!  Don’t fill those suckers up all the way or else they’ll crack.  The sauce in the ratatouille will expand when it freezes.

Here’s hoping you’ve enjoyed this episode of Cooking with Ann, staring, in order of appearance, a whole bunch of vegetables, Ann, and Chris!  Join us next time for:

No, We Did Not Let All Those Vegetable Scraps Go to Waste!

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10 thoughts on “Ratatouille! Or, Summer’s Almost Gone…

  1. ahh yes, putting up a delicious dish for the bleak winter months when a taste of spring/summer may be just the thing to brighten the too short days … a little sunshine in a mason jar.

  2. My mum appreciated the generous use of olive oil! Oh, and she was quick to point out this recipe is popular in Greece! Great food, great article. Will be giving it a go when I get back to my cooking mode! Thanks Ann!

  3. I think all of us vegans are a little weird, aren’t we? I only like my tomatoes raw or in pasta sauce. If in pasta sauce, I have to run it through the blender first because I don’t like the texture of cooked tomatoes. I despise lima beans and brussels sprouts. The velvety softness of peaches and apricots (the whole thing–not just the outside) completely grosses me out. I like onions and peppers cooked in things for flavor, but then I pick them out because I don’t like the way they crunch. I’ve only recently forced myself to eat peas, but only in things (never in a pile on my plate)– this was a HUGE step for me.

    I don’t like any of the “vegan” processed crap the stores sell… to me, it defeats the purpose of the vegan lifestyle. The fake cheese, for example, tastes like paste and has no nutritional value whatsoever. And, the fake butter is just full of poison. I don’t know many vegans, but I’m the only one I know who feels this way about those frankenfoods made especially for vegans. Thoughts on that?

    I’m looking forward to trying your recipe. 🙂

    • ann says:

      holy crap i can’t wait until chris reads this comment…he talks so much trash about my weirdness and you are, like, way weirder than me with vegetables. love it!

      as to the processed crap…FRANKENFOOD! love that, too! that’s precisely what it is, huh? in london we used to eat it so much…it’s not that it’s tasty or nutritious…it’s just that it’s easier…it lets us keep up the meat-and-potatoes lifestyles we had before going vegan. i hardly touch the stuff now, owing partly to the fact that once you start eating whole foods you realize how gross it is. but i also recently discovered that i’m allergic to wheat, and that throws a damper on most of it.

      i never, ever thought that any vegan cheese was going to taste even half-way decent. and then i was in oregon last year visiting a friend and i discovered…drumroll, please…daiya! it’s amazing. seriously. if you’ve tried it already and think i’m full of it, okay, but if not, just try it. fake foods aren’t for everyday, but once in a while…

      i used to use margerine but yeah – it’s pretty gross, too…the last two times i bought it was for a recipe, and both times it sat in the fridge so long thereafter, it got moldy. i put olive oil on my bread most of the time. or some kind of nut butter.

      as to that recipe…it was kind of a joke…then after i posted i realized that people were probably going to expect me to post about it. hehe…here’s a great recipe for scrap bouillon…don’t think i could do much better! so love your comments!

      • Allergy to wheat? I can relate. I could make you a list of all of my allergies and make your mom very happy. It’s really very impressive, including everything from dairy and gluten to water chestnuts, almonds, corn, honeydew melon, and tumeric. It’s easily two typed pages. Obnoxious, actually.

        I’ve tried Daiya. It gives me a belly ache. It was okay on things, but by itself it was pretty gross and pasty. There’s a jack variety and a havarti… they were decent melted with homemade baked french fries… as close to those nasty-but-addictive Steak n Shake cheese fries as I can get. Strange that they can make a cheese substitute out of tapioca flour, isn’t it?

        You know margarine is essentially plastic, don’t you? I didn’t know it could mold, considering its high chemical content.

      • ann says:

        oh, geez…i can’t believe i forgot to reply to this comment! okay – you’re so right – margarine is gross. if i have to buy it, i tend to buy the ones that are pure sunflower or olive oil. but totally with you – still super gross. i did read your post on your site about all the gazillion things to which you are allergic. criminey! have you heard of fodmaps? i’m not trying to make your life more complicated than it is, but there are these real bona fide scientists in england and australia who swear that some people are allergic to the sugars in foods (fodmap is an acronym for all the sciencey names for sugars), and there’s this diet that directly targets those things…much of what you mentioned falls into the diet (and by diet, i really mean life-eating-plan, because allergy = not a choice). i only had the daiya on a vegan french dip at a vegan soul food restaurant in eugene…so to be fair, it was a bit concealed by all other sorts of lovely stuff (most of which i can no longer eat. bastards.)…ah, well. signs that we should stick to the good stuff, anyway, isn’t it?

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