In my book, ratatouille made from multi-coloured Mediterranean vegetables is probably one of the best vegetarian meals ever invented!
I was first introduced to this classic dish in the 1960’s through A Book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David. Up until then, fresh, sun-ripened ingredients such as aubergine, courgettes and bell peppers were relatively unheard of, and virtually impossible to source in the UK. Thankfully, food shopping has come a long way since then!
Originally, an ancient French peasant dish made from coarsely chopped fresh summer vegetables (the word ratatouille comes from the French touiller, which means to stir), this iconic vegetable stew made from onions, tomatoes, courgettes, sweet peppers and aubergines is now an all-year-round favourite - although in the depths of winter I think you would be well advised to use tinned plum tomatoes instead of the seemingly non-existent fresh ripe ones!
There are numerous modern interpretations of this dish but it seems to me that this simple version, which is made on top of the stove rather than in the oven, is the most authentic and thus ratatouille at its basic best. I’ve loosely based it on Raymond Blanc’s recipe in Cooking For Friends.
For this blog post, I’ve suggested taking ratatouille into dinner party territory by partnering it with Roast Cod and Parmesan Crisps - although, as French peasants obviously knew, it is equally good for every day eating. Keep it simple, serve with our grain-free bread still warm from the oven and a salad for a main course, or as a side dish. It really comes into its own served cold the next day too. I also like to use it in ratatouille omelette. In fact, serve it hot, serve it cold, serve it any way you like! This low carb medley of vegetable goodness will remind you of summer.
Ratatouille (V) with Roast Cod and Parmesan Crisps (Serves 4)
Ingredients - for the ratatouille
50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
25g (1oz) butter
150g (5oz) onion, finely chopped
1 large red pepper
1 large yellow pepper
1 medium aubergine
1 large courgette
2 ripe plum tomatoes (I used Mr Organic tinned plum tomatoes)
1 sprig of fresh thyme, leaves only
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the stalk end off the aubergine then cut it into 1cm (½ inch) dice. Layer the aubergine dice into a colander liberally sprinkling them with salt as you go. Put a plate underneath the colander (to catch the juices) and another plate on top, weighted down with something heavy (I use a kettle filled with water) Set aside to drain for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the top and bottom off the courgette and remove the stalks and seeds from the peppers. Cut all the vegetables (courgette, peppers and tomatoes) into 1cm (½ inch) dice. Keep the vegetables separate at this stage. If you’re using tinned tomatoes remove any core, skin or daggy bits before roughly dicing.
In a large deep frying/sauté pan heat the oil and butter together over a medium heat. Add the finely chopped onion and thyme leaves to the pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Do not let the onion brown.
Dry the aubergine on paper kitchen towel, then add the aubergine and pepper dice to the onion and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, boil 1 litre (1¾ pints) water in a kettle. Pour the boiling water into a separate pan, add some salt then blanch the diced courgettes for 3 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water.
Add the courgettes to the rest of the vegetables and cook for another 5 minutes until they are turning golden, then add the tomatoes. Give everything a good stir, cover with a lid and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes until all the vegetables are meltingly tender.
Taste, then season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Ingredients - for the roast cod
4 x 225g (8oz) sustainably sourced cod fillets, skinned
1 tbsp Clearspring organic sunflower frying oil
15g (½ oz) unsalted butter
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice, to serve
Preheat oven to 200℃/ 400℉/ Gas mark 6. Skin and bone the cod fillets (if this hasn’t already been done for you by your fishmonger).
Heat the oil and butter together in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. When the butter has stopped foaming place the cod fillets into the pan, presentation side down i.e. skinned side uppermost.
Pan fry the fish until lightly browned (about 5 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.
Carefully turn the fish fillets over and transfer to a non-stick baking tray (now skinned side down) and cook in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
Finish with a little more sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Ingredients - for the Parmesan crisps (makes 8)
150g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 200℃/400℉/Gas mark 6
Place a 7cm ring or cutter onto a large non-stick baking tray.
Sprinkle 2-3 teaspoons of Parmesan into the middle of the ring and use your fingers or the back of a spoon to compact the cheese down.
Remove the cutter and repeat - leaving sufficient space in-between so that the crisps don’t merge into each other when cooking.
Cook for 4-6 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on the baking tray.
Remove from the tray with a palette knife and store in an airtight container.
Use within 7 days.
It is always best to get organised by preparing all the ingredients listed in a recipe before you actually launch into cooking or bringing everything together. Professional chefs call this “mise en place” (putting in place) and it is a very effective way of staying on top of the situation when you’re cooking at home too.
The ratatouille and the Parmesan crisps can be prepared well in advance - several days ahead, if needs be!
You can re-heat the ratatouille or serve it cold as an hors d’oeuvre.
Parmesan crisps are also great served as no-carb nibbles with pre-dinner drinks.
Carbohydrate 15g Protein 4g - per serving of ratatouille
Carbohydrate 1g Protein 38g - per serving of cod
Carbohydrate 0g Protein 12g - per parmesan crisp