I always go to the movies when there is a food movie showing, I enjoyed Chocolate, Julie and Julia, Eat Drink Man Woman, Hundred Foot Journey, and many others. Ratatouille, a movie about a rat in the kitchen, was probably the most popular of them all but I could not bring myself to watch it. I blame my father and our bad experience with rats in my childhood. The rats at our farm used to sleep in a line between pieces of wood on top of our shed. My dad got the idea that if he fired a bullet straight down the line of rats he could take out about twenty at a time. One night he decided to go rat hunting and as I was the eldest (or tallest or silliest) I was chosen to help. It was my job to hold a torch at the end of the shed while he was standing behind me with his 22 rifle ready to fire. He gave the signal to turn on the torch so he could see their eyes and fire. BUT…..all of the rats ran towards the light, over the torch, over my hands, down my arms, shoulders and body. It was raining rats all over me. I honestly have the shivers now just thinking about it. So there is no way I am going to see a movie about a rat!!!
Ratatouille comes from Provence in the south of France and this simple recipe sings with summer vegetables – eggplant, zucchini, capsicum and tomato. These veggies are at their peak right now and I can’t think of a better way to get my five a day. Ratatouille is a delicious stew of Mediterranean veg sautéed separately, and then doused with a rich tomato sauce fragrant with thyme and basil.
Making ratatouille is definitely a project for a weekend afternoon. It’s simple but fairly time-consuming.
Firstly there’s getting all the vegetables washed, chopped, and ready. Then you need to cook them in batches, partly so they can brown instead of steam and also because they all cook at different rates and they won’t all fit into a pot until they have started to break down.
The ratatouille can be eaten once it is all warmed through but the magic happens after an hour of simmering when the vegetables have developed a silky smooth sweetness and the bay leaf and thyme have perfumed every corner of the saucepan. The basil gets stirred through just before serving and at this point I dream of being in Italy as the Italian summer aromas are released. I usually make enough to feed a crowd, pack for a lunch, and freeze for later.
A modern way to prepare this dish as a centrepiece is to choose the eggplant, zucchini, tomato, onion and capsicum all of similar widths, slice them finely and line them up in a casserole dish, then scatter with the thyme, drizzle with olive oil and bake until tender.
So look for shiny, plump eggplant, zucchinis, tomatoes and capsicums in the shops and markets on the mountain while they are at their best.