Recipe #6: Russell’s Ratatouille


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Apart from the ability to quote from every episode of Blackadder and to read reams of very silly science fiction, my dad and I share a love of cooking simple, tasty food. In fact, my father (whose name is Russell) has even published* his recipes – or, as he calls them, Russipes.

*By ‘published’, I mean he has typed them up and printed them out for me.

One of my favourites is this ratatouille recipe. Dad has some strict rules about what it takes to make certain meals properly. In the case of spaghetti bolognaise, it is breaking the mince up so that there are no large lumps. And in the case of his ratatouille, it is compulsory to squish the bitter juices out of the brinjals. Every time I tell him I am making ratatouille I know exactly what his next sentence will be: “Have you pressed the aubergines?”

So, before you start, please don’t skip this vital step. My father and I will have nothing to do with bitter, unsquashed eggplants!

Ingredients

  • 1 large aubergine/eggplant/brinjal/whateveryoucallthem or 2-3 smaller ones
  • 1 large green pepper and 1 small red pepper
  • 3 or four courgettes/baby marrows
  • A punnet of button mushrooms
  • 2 onions
  • 1 tin whole peeled tomatos
  • Some tomato paste (not in the Russipe, but I like it)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • A hefty splash of olive oil
  • Chopped parsley or friend bacon to garnish

What to do

  • Cut the ends off the aubergines and courgettes. Wash and cut them into fairly thick slices. Sprinkle liberally with salt and layer them in a colander over a plate. Squash them down with something heavy (I use a pot filled with water). Leave for at least an hour until all the moisture has been pressed out.
This is my aubergine-squashing contraption. See the brown stuff on the plate? Those are the bitter juices!

This is my aubergine-squashing contraption. See the brown stuff on the plate? Those are the bitter juices!

  • Chop the peppers, onion and garlic and roughly chop the tinned tomatoes.
With all the veggie chopping involved in this recipe, I do sometimes think of getting one of those slicer dicer things you see on TV.

With all the veggie chopping involved in this recipe, I do sometimes think of getting one of those slicer dicer things you see on TV.

  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onions and garlic for five minutes over a low heat until transparent.
  • Add the mushrooms and peppers and cook for another 10 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Cover the pan and simmer over a low heat for at least half an hour, stirring occasionally and correcting the seasoning, until the liquid thickens.

There are a couple of ways you can serve your ratatouille:

As a lovely veggie stew

In which case, simply ‘present on a bed of boiled rice’ (dad’s instructions). This is a great option for dinner parties, especially if any of your guests are vegetarian. For a change, they will not feel left out or second best. If any of your other guests are hardened meat eaters, garnish your ratatouille with bacon. This is sure to amuse.

As a side dish with meat

If you (or your loved ones) prefer meat, it can be tough to make veggies the exciting part of a meal. This ratatouille is just as toothsome and tasty as sirloin and is the perfect way to get vitamins and minerals into recalcitrant carnivores.

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I am a recalcitrant carnivore myself.

Wine pairing suggestion

Vondeling Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot

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This particular vintage got four stars from Platter, but we managed to get it at a bargain price. (Isn’t buying wine in SA so much fun? You should see the colour my boyfriend’s American friends turn when they drink our wine and then we tell them what it cost.)

The point here is that this is a vegetable stew that deserves to be paired with a wine that you’d normally serve with red meat. The lovely black peppery aromas of this full-bodied red go brilliantly with the simple seasoning of the ratatouille.

Time needed

  • Veggie chopping: 15 minutes
  • Brinjal squashing: 1-2 hours
  • Frying and simmering: 45 minutes

Dishes dirtied

  • 1 chopping board
  • 1 knife
  • 1 colander
  • 1 plate
  • 1 frying pan
  • 1 wooden spoon
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