Typical to Provençal cookery and originally from Niece comes the popular and succulent Ratatouille. Ratatouille is essentially a vegetable stew, which was first designated as an appetiser, however, is nowadays used as part of different classic preparations such as ommlettes, and scrambled eggs. It is also served as a side to roasts, braised fish, chicken and small cuts of meat.
The original Ratatouille Niçoise is prepared using vegetables such as onions, zucchinis, eggplants, assorted capsicums and tomato, along with Provençal herbs which are all simmered to a smooth creamy consistency in olive oil. For the purist - and in following the steps of the preparation from the finest Provençal Chefs - the vegetables should be separately cooked, then combined to be cooked together to finish. It was customary for the vegetables to be cubed (medium size cubes), but with the modern cuisine and emphasis on presentation, chefs started changing around with the presentation of this dish, creating many designs to include flower shaped ratatouilles where the vegetables are lined as petals of a large flower, as well as batonned vegetables that are then tied with leaks to form bundles...etc.
Besides the heavenly flavours of ratatouille, what is great about this dish is that it is open to any design that you wish to present it with. The use of different vegetables allow for different colours too, so no matter what you end up doing, this dish is most certainly to always impress.
I have made Ratatouille for dinner the other day, and had some extra vegetables that did not fit in the dish, so decided to use them in tartlets, which my kids love. Ratatouille tartlets are an excellent variation to Baked Ratatouille. The addition of puff pastry, makes it an excellent snack and side to steak. In this post, I have included both, the tartlets and baked ratatouille dish for you to try. When serving a rustic dinner, go for the baked dish as it adds to that feel. Otherwise, and for an excellent lunch, serve ratatouille tartlets along with steak, braised fish or simply a side of leafy salad with classic french dressing.
Also using Ratatouille with eggs and omelettes makes it a wonderful brunch option :)
PS do go for seasonal vegetables, there is nothing like visiting farmers markets and being inspired by the local produce on offer that season. Also opt for organic whenever possible, why intrust a cocktail of chemicals with your health? The same applies to meats, in fact, meats are the one part where organic is really necessary.
For Baked Ratatouille
2 large eggplants, washed and sliced into thin rounds
1 small butternut squash, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
4 tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds
6 small zucchinis or 2 large ones, sliced into thin rounds
1 large brown onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic crushed
6 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup tomato juice or water
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp fresh sage leaves
black pepper & salt
2 tbsp Olive oil + 2 tbsp extra
Start by preparing the tomato sauce. In a large saucepan, gently cook the diced onions, and crushed garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil. Cook till tender, but do not brown.
Add 1 tbsp of each: rosemary, thyme and sage. Sprinkle with black pepper and toss to coat. Add the chopped tomatoes and stir to coat with the herbed onion mixture. sprinkle with salt and stir. Add sugar, tomato paste and tomato juice or water, stir to mix. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until liquid is reduced.
Turn the heat off and remove.
Place Tomato sauce in the baking dish to cover the bottom. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the sauce for later.
In whichever manner you like, start layering the vegetables on top of the tomato sauce. I place them half standing in the baking dish, and alternate colours. Continue going around until the whole dish had been filled with the vegetables.
Sprinkle the rest of the herbs and then sprinkle 1/4 cup of reserved tomato sauce on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tbsp olive oil.
Because the vegetables are not pre-cooked, cover with foil and bake in a preheated oven for 25 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for further 20 minutes. If you have pre-cooked vegetables, then do not cover and just roast in the preheated oven for 25-40 minutes depending the size of your dish. The vegetables should still hold shape, yet be creamy when finished and easy to cut through.
You can use a cookie cutter - round or square - in any size you like. Try minis for cocktail parties. Adjust the size of the vegetables according to pastry size.
Puff pastry cut into squares of desired size.
1 medium eggplants, washed and sliced into thin rounds
1/4 butternut squash, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
2 tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds
3 small zucchinis or 2 large ones, sliced into thin rounds
1 small brown onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic crushed
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup tomato juice or water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves
1 tsp fresh sage leaves
black pepper & salt
2 tbsp Olive oil + 2 tbsp extra
Prepare tomato sauce as instructed above. Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a cookie sheet with baking paper and slightly brush with oil. Place the puff pastry squares on lined sheet about 2 inches apart.
Top each square with 2 tbsp of tomato paste (adjust quantity according to your chosen pastry size).
Top each with layers of vegetables, sprinkling ever so slightly with olive oil between the layers and sprinkling with herbs.
Start with the largest vegetables moving on to the smallest on top. Spoon a little tomato sauce on top, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs. Repeat to finish all tartlets.
Bake in the preheated oven for 22 -25 minutes or until pastry is fully puffed and golden. Remove from heat, cool for 3 minutes on the sheet, transfer to wire rack until ready to serve.
Serve along side braised fish, steak, chicken or a side of leafy salad with french dressing... But hey this is good enough on its own and a perfect vegetarian treat ;)
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