As a colorful, tasty, nutritious and easy to prepare dish, ratatouille is one of the most typical recipes of the French culinary heritage.
Ratatouille is a traditional culinary specialty of the cuisine from Nice, Provence, and Languedoc.
The word “ratatouille” derives from the Occitan word ratatolha which defines, as early as the fourteenth century, a preparation of stewed vegetables. This word comes from the military canteens, where dishes made with vegetables, beans, potatoes, bread and fatty meat were prepared. A very simple but extremely nutritious dish, adapted to be prepared quickly in order to provide the energies necessary to face the fighting.
The term “ratatouille” seems to have been used for the first time only at the beginning of the 19th century, in the Journal des sciences militaires des armées de terre et de mer (1831). A few years later, Simon Jude Honnorat (1848) in his Provencal-French dictionary gave the following definition: “Meal leftovers, warmed up food, bad stew, a soup for rats.” Just that!
At the end of the nineteenth century, its abbreviation “rata”, used in military slang, defined a mixture of beans and potatoes, then later, a mixture of vegetables and meat.
Like any traditional dish, ratatouille also has peasant cuisine origins. The peasants of Provence originally prepared this dish with what they could find most easily, especially vegetables from their garden such as aubergines, squashes and tomatoes, as well as garlic.
But then, when did the ratatouille as we know it today appear? To find the answer, let’s first look at the various ingredients used in this dish.
Indeed, the vegetables that are essential to this recipe were imported and grown in Provence only recently.
Tomato was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards at the beginning of the 16th century. Originally from South America, it is considered an ornamental plant and its fruit then called “golden apple” only begins to be cultivated in the eighteenth century.
Pepper, originally from Mexico where it had been cultivated for more than 7000 years, mad it to Europe in the 16th century.
Finally, courgette (zucchini) only arrived in France at the beginning of the 19th century. So as you can see, today’s ratatouille is not that old!
Ratatouille has many similar cousins in various countries around the Mediterranean basin:
In Spain, it is called pisto. In Italy, it is peperonata or Sicilian caponata. In Romania, people call it ghiveci. In Malta, it is kapunata. In Greece, they call it briami and add potatoes to it. In Turkey, imam biyaldi is presented stuffed in an eggplant. In Morocco, taktouka, a spread that is also popular in Algeria and Tunisia, does not include eggplant and zucchini.
Hungarians add sausage to their lecso.
The vegetables in the ratatouille (zucchini, eggplant, pepper and tomato) are flavored with garlic, onion and olive oil, and should be cut into slices or cubes.
There are really two methods of preparation:
Cooking all the vegetables together or pre-cook them separately. I obviously chose to go with the recipe of our expert Chef Simon! Chef Simon advocates cooking vegetables separately, then gather everything at the end and let cook for about ten minutes. His method is perfect!
Our ratatouille today has nothing to do with this bad stew of rat soup! This recipe actually gave its name to a great movie by Pixar studios released in 2007. The hero of this film, Remy, is just a rat who lives in the kitchen of a famous Parisian restaurant and yes, it is about ratatouille!
Ratatouille is a very tasty side dish that can accompany meat or fish dishes, but also rice or potatoes. It is just as good, whether served hot and cold.
I prepared this ratatouille for a dinner with friends. My friend Nathan took the lead, and prepared a lamb roast. Stephanie made garlic and rosemary latkes, and I prepared the ratatouille. The combination of those three dishes was very harmonious, especially when served with an excellent wine from Pauillac!
This recipe is validated by our culinary expert in French cuisine, Chef Simon. You can find Chef Simon on his website Chef Simon – Le Plaisir de Cuisiner.
- 4 zucchinis (firm), cubed
- 2 eggplant , peeled and cubed
- 2 onions , peeled and cut into strips
- 8 cloves garlic , crushed
- 4 shallots , peeled and thinly sliced
- 6 large Roma (or other tomatoes), peeled, seeded and crushed
- 2 bell peppers , cut into 1-inch squares
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- Olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
Cover the bottom of a saucepan with olive oil and heat over low heat.
Sweat half of the shallots for a couple minutes. Add half the garlic and make sure not to brown it.
Add the tomatoes. Mix, and add salt and pepper. Level the surface and cover.
Cut a disk of parchment paper and make a hole in the center to make a chimney. Place this parchment paper on tomatoes to regulate cooking and maintain moisture. Simmer for 15 minutes and check the liquid level.
If the tomatoes produce a lot of water, finish cooking without the chimney but still on low heat.
Continue cooking for about 15 minutes or until dry. The mass must be homogeneous and no longer evaporate. This can only be achieved through moderate cooking.
Cover the bottom of another saucepan with olive oil and sweat the peppers over low heat. Add salt and pepper.
Proceed exactly the same way with the zucchinis.
Cover the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and sweat the remaining onions, garlic and shallots until lightly browned. Add the eggplant and sweat without adding oil. Add salt and pepper. Finally, in a large pot, place some of the eggplant and peppers with the bunch of fresh thyme. Add some of the zucchini and the rest of the eggplant and peppers, alternating the vegetables. Add the crushed tomato over the entire surface.
Mix gently. Cover and simmer stew over low heat for about 10 minutes.