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COCHRANE'S TASTING PLEASURES: The Ultimate Ratatouille - Alberta Fresh

Yes! Yes, I know. The “Ratatouille” is not an Alberta dish— It’s a southern France specialty. From Provence, to be exact. Still, I bet you we can make killer ratatouilles just the same.

Yes! Yes, I know. The “Ratatouille” is not an Alberta dish— It’s a southern France specialty. From Provence, to be exact. Still, I bet you we can make killer ratatouilles just the same. Why? Because it is now the height of summer, and the farmer’s markets are stuffed with superbly fresh garden treasures, full in flavours and colours. 

I cannot think of a better way to showcase the goodness of our gardens than by doing a vegetable stew perfumed with fresh herbs. Cooking a ratatouille does not follow strict rules but rather a set of culinary principles.  As a result, each cook seems to have their secret recipe. My niece’s husband, Christophe, is from southern France and strongly recommended the following recipe (he takes his food and wines seriously).  Making this stew is time-consuming, but the secret is in the slow reduction, lightly caramelized vegetable juices, and meddling of flavours. 

Serve the dish warm or cold. On its own or with crusty bread. Or with a side of rice, grilled meat or mildly spiced sausages. Or then again, serve it for brunch with an egg poached in it.  Keep the dish in the fridge for a couple of days, and the flavours will intensify—C’est si délicieuse. 

Ingredients

Approximately 

1 cup of olive oil 

2 lbs onions coarsely cut in even pieces

2 lbs eggplant cubed

2 lbs red, yellow, green sweet pepper (grilled and remove the skin is best) and cubed

2 lbs fresh tomatoes peeled, seeded and cut into chunks

1 head of garlic, peeled and crushed

Coarse salts

A large bouquet of fresh herbs (3 bay leaves and thyme)

2 lbs of zucchini sliced

Fresh ground pepper

Fresh basil 

Directions: 

Pour half the olive oil into a stockpot. Add the onion and soften for a few minutes. Gradually add all the other vegetables and salt, except for the zucchini. Stir gently and make sure the vegetables do not stick to the pan. When the vegetables start to release their juices, bring the heat up to a boil. This first step should take about 45 to 60 minutes. 

Gently incorporate the zucchini and the bouquet of fresh herbs into the mix. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and leave the cover of the pot ajar. Cook for another 45 minutes.

Gently separate the juices from the vegetables using a colander.  Place the vegetable in a dish and reserve.  Reduce the juices into a syrup— About one hour. Then, return the vegetables to the pot and mix gently, coating them with the liquid. 

Place the vegetable in a serving dish. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, flaked salts, drops of your best olive oil and freshly cut basil leaves. 

Serve warm or cool. 

Recommended wines: Though fresh, the ratatouille has intense earthy flavours.   Select a wine that can sustain the intensity of flavours, has bright acidity to bring out the fruits in the dish and the wine.  

If you like whites, go for full-body, dry, crisp wines with citrusy and herbal aromatics.  For example, a southern Côte du Rhône whites made from the Marssanne and Roussanne grapes. Or a Chenin Blanc from South Africa. 

If red is your preference, I recommend pairing it with a medium body, low tannin, high acidity, dry wine such as a Southern France Grenache or Syrah. You may also want to try a Chianti or young Tempranillo (Rioja) from Spain. 

Let me know what you think. 

Renée Delorme is a sommelier specializing in private wine tastings.
Interested in being profiled? If you are food artisans, growers, producers and restaurateurs please email me at mail@tastingpleasures.ca