I have to say that I am enjoying the extra bit of time given by my mom cooking some dinners while I can work on the usual, the new and/or the collaborated. Spring has me "springing" but as I proofread I am also in the "oh my God this is not good enough" phase....forgive my freaking out!!! Fortunately mom is here to bring my sanity back with a bowl of warm soup, a piece of cake or her delicious ratatouille.
It's not often you see or will see again a savory recipe on this site but when I asked mom what she wanted to make for a guest post, she immediately replied "Je pourrais faire ma ratatouille!" (I could make my ratatouille!). "Pourquoi pas une tarte ou un gateau plutot?" (why not a tart or cake instead?). She admitted being more of savory cook than a baker and made me blush by saying that she already uses my recipes for baking so no need for a redo. But after a little nudging from you guys, we are also going to make a tart before they leave and we will do it completely together.
Indeed, for the ratatouille, I pretty much shot the veggies in their raw and cooked form while she did everything else. I went to teach a class and when I came back the house was foggy with the wonderful smells of her ratatouille. A whiff of it is enough to let my mind wander home. There is no particular or nostalgic moment associated with it. She made it everyweek. I grew up on it like others do on collard greens or lasagna. It's us. It's simple. It's home. I keep telling her that hers is special. It's mom's. It's good.
I wanted her to write about it with her own words but she left me the duty instead (I guess too busy playing cards with B. and my dad!). Mom will be the first one to tell you that every cook in Provence (where the dish is said to have originated) and in the world has a different recipe for it and a different method of cooking. She laughs out loud when she hears other cooks complain "did you see how he makes his ratatouille? Heresy!" She says the only heresy would be to cook something that you end up not eating.
She was told by reference cookbooks back in the day that "the" ratatouille recipe was made with each vegetable cooked separately then all added together then braised. Mom does what most homecook does: cooks all the vegetable in layers in one pan. As I was writing quantities down for this post she came over my shoulder and said "the only rule I follow from those old stuffy book is to add the vegetables in the pan by alphabetical order. That's important". Ah well, yes mom, but that does not work from French to English! The spices also can be different from household to household. Ours traditionally include thyme, parsley, oregano, a pinch of lavender and basil and some "Quatre Epices". I ran out of the first and last one for the photo shoot but they did make it to the finished dish.
Mom also added "tell you readers that I have no diploma in ratatouille making. This is simply the one that has been handed down from generation to generation in the family. I would not want to sound presumptuous about such a simple dish". How sweet can she be?!! I should warn you that we like ours on the soft and stewy side and it's not really the best thing for a beauty shot but I hope the pictures did mom's version justice.
Here is what I love about ratatouille, hers, mine and all the other ones in between: it can be a side dish, a bruschetta topping, a main meal with a fried egg on top (known as piperade), or a vegetarian meal with a sprinkle of parmesan or Gruyere. It makes a lot and that's perfect for a gathering of friends. So without further ado...
1 medium onion (peeled and diced)
1 eggplant (peeled every other strip and diced)
3-4 zucchini (peeled every other strip and diced)
1 red bell pepper (we used orange because no red ones at the farmers market)
1 green bell pepper
1 can good quality tomatoes (we used one 14oz can of fire roasted tomatoes)
5 garlic cloves (we like ours unpeeled and whole but some don't...do as you prefer)
Herbes de Provence
Or a mix of thyme, parsley, oregano, lavender, all spice and a pinch of basil
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
In a large saute pan set over medium (and I mean the largest you have that you can put a lid on), sautee the onion in a bit of olive oil until translucid. Add the diced eggplant and sautee until it becomes golden in color. Add a dash more olive oil and add the zucchini, then the peppers, tomaotoes and canned tomatoes. Add the whole unpeeled garlic cloves, the spices, salt and pepper. Do not stir. Cover with a lid and let stew for aout 15 minutes. At this point the vegetables will have reduced a bit in volume from cooking and you will have room to stir and mix the herbs with the rest of the ingredients in the pan. Turn the heat down to medium low and simmer for at least 30 to 40 minutes. Uncover and let simmer 20 to 30 minutes on low until most of the cooking liquid has evaporated.