Thursday, 22 October 2009

Autumn Stews from France – Ratatouille

Ratatouille has been made famous by the Disney Film about Remy the Rat - it's a traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish, originating in Nice and its full name is Ratatouille Niçoise. The word ratatouille comes from the Occitan ratatolha and the French word touiller which means to toss food.

Ratatouille is usually served as a side dish, but also may be served as a meal on its own (accompanied by rice or bread). Tomatoes are a key ingredient, with garlic, onions, courgettes, aubergine, bell peppers, marjoram and basil, or bay leaf and thyme, or a mix of green herbs like herbes de Provence. There is much debate on how to make a traditional ratatouille. One method is to simply sauté all of the vegetables together. Some cooks insist on a layering approach, where the aubergine and the courgettes are sautéed separately, while the tomatoes, onion, garlic and bell peppers are made into a sauce. The ratatouille is then layered in a casserole – aubergine, courgettes, tomato/pepper mixture – then baked in an oven.

If one tries to trace back its origins by examining the availability of the vegetables locally in the Provencale area, we can deduce that the meal Ratatouille cannot be earlier than the 16th century. For example, the aubergine only arrived in France around the 16th century, from India. At that time it was considered to be a poisonous decorative plant!


olive oil
1 onion
1 clove garlic, or to taste
1 aubergine
1 green, red, yellow or a combination, bell pepper
2 courgettes
6 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
salt and pepper to taste
Herbes de Provence to taste

Put a large casserole on the stove on medium heat. When the casserole is hot, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom. Cut the courgettes and aubergine into ½ inch slices. Sauté the slices until light brown. Chop the onions and garlic. Cut the green pepper into strips or dice, as preferred. Add the onions and peppers and cook slowly for about 10 minutes until tender but not brown. Stir in the garlic. Peel and seed the tomatoes. Dice them or cut them into quarters, add to the casserole. Five minutes later, check to see if the tomatoes have made enough juice to almost cover the vegetables - if so, perfect. If not, add water as needed (not too much). Add salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence to taste.

Cover the casserole and let simmer on low heat until the vegetables are tender but still intact, 10 to 20 minutes, or to taste. Remove the lid, raise the heat a little and cook uncovered for another 15 minutes, basting frequently until the liquids have mostly evaporated, leaving a small amount of juice and olive oil.

There are a range of wines which will pair well with Ratatouille: Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux (£25 - £47) is the Second Wine of Château Margaux and is a good choice. It was was first made in 1908 and is full bodied, supple and velvety. The wine is powerful and concentrated yet well balanced. The flavours are of blackcurrant and cherry with a long finish and a creamy mouth feel. It's an opulent wine and resembles Second Growth status.

Château Clerc Milon (£20 - £40) is owned by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild and sits just between the First Growths Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Lafite Rothschild. The wines of Clerc Milon are firm, dense and well structured due to the high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon used to make them. They have nutty, fruity oak on the nose and palate with hints of cranberry and black currant.

Château du Tertre (£13) would accompany this dish very well indeed and since the year 2000 the château has shown a stunning revival and the château's profile is rising amongst wine connoisseurs. The deep ruby wines are rich in style, creamy and well balanced. They are aromatic and the bouquet is of chocolate, cherries, blackberries, smoke and plums. The oak lends the flavour of vanilla to the wine and sometimes toffee.

Chateau Chadeuil (£4.75) is a wine made with food in mind and has been receiving high praise from the wine press. The wine shows a nice dark ruby colour and reveals beautiful aromas of blackberries with a hint of vanilla. It is medium bodied with dark berry flavours, well balanced tannins with a long smooth finish and at £4.75 is a real bargain.


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