Gusteau: “What do I always say? Anyone can cook!”. Remy: Well, yeah, anyone can, that doesn't mean that anyone should.” - Ratatouille, 2007.
More and more people are deciding to take up cooking. This increase in popularity has been a result of popular cooking shows like MasterChef, the Great British Bake Off, etc. That said, not everyone’s an expert. Many of us wouldn’t call ourselves that, at least.
If you want to learn some easy dishes that taste great, ratatouille (the dish, not the film) is a great place to start. With some olive oil, fresh herbs like herbes de Provence, fresh basil, oregano, bell peppers, chopped tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables, you’re ready to go.
While it's basically a vegetable stew, the ratatouille is a fairly simple recipe to make, you can serve it as a main dish, a side, and even reheat it the next day. Ratatouille is better reheated!
The History of Ratatouille
Never had ratatouille before?
This dish is a typical southern French dish and is popular in France and around the world. It’s a simple and tasty vegetable dish.
While this Mediterranean dish is popular both inside and outside of France, it was once considered basic.
Its name comes from the Occitan word “ratatolha” which means “vegetable ragout”.
So when was it invented?
The recipe is quite modern. While many dishes originated during the Antiquity, this one didn’t. It wasn’t until the 19th century that ratatouille started popping up in literature and the Journal des sciences militaires des armées de terre et de mer (Army and Navy Journal of Military Sciences) in 1831. Ratatouille was described as a “dish of diluted vegetables floating in a few pieces of listless veal or bad lamb”.
In 1848, it appeared in the French dictionary with another definition:
“Leftovers, hodgepodge, reheated food, bad ragout; soup for rats”
Let’s just say that ratatouille wasn’t a popular dish in restaurants at the time. While it wasn’t popular when first invented, the arrival of certain vegetables helped turn around ratatouille’s fortunes. During the Renaissance, the aubergine was brought back from India, the tomato arrived in Europe during the 16th century from the Americas, but we’d have to wait until the 19th century for the courgette to appear in the dish. It was then that the ratatouille took on its modern form.
That said, it still wasn’t very popular in the 19th century and we’d have to wait until the 20th century before people started appreciating it. Nowadays, many great chefs are trying to reinvent the dish.
Similarly, the animated film “Ratatouille” regenerated the dish’s popularity.
A Typical Ratatouille Recipe
Ratatouille recipes can vary a lot from one cook to another. Each family has its recipe and methods for making ratatouille better. That said, here’s a basic recipe for ratatouille.
For four people, you’ll need:
- 600g of courgettes
- 600g of aubergine
- 600g of tomatoes (while you can use tomato paste or crushed tomatoes, it's much better with fresh tomatoes)
- 300g of yellow or red bell pepper
- 200g of onions
- 15g of garlic
- 125ml of virgin olive oil
- 5 basil leaves
- 1 bouquet garni
- Salt and pepper
Start with a big pot. Pour a bit of oil into the bottom and add chopped garlic and onions. Cook for a few minutes while mixing with a wooden spoon. Peel the tomatoes and cut them into strips. Add them to the pot to make a bit of juice. Cut the courgette into slices or cubes and put them into a preheated frying pan with a bit of olive oil. Do the same with the aubergines. Strain these vegetables and add them to the pot. Cut the peppers and add them to the mix. If the mixture seems a bit dry, you can add another tomato. Finally, season with the bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaf, parsley, etc.), salt, and pepper.
To make the perfect ratatouille, you need to simmer on a low heat for around 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finish it off by adding some basil leaves. Now your ratatouille is ready.
This is a quick and easy recipe, meaning you can make it on a weeknight and eat is as your main dish.
What You Need to Know About Cooking Ratatouille
Here's some advice for making your ratatouille even better.
Firstly, you need to know that ratatouille is a summer dish. While it’s often served hot, the majority of ingredients are summer vegetables. Courgettes, aubergines, and tomatoes are all summer ingredients. This doesn’t mean that you can’t cook ratatouille when the ingredients aren’t in season but it does mean the ingredients won’t be as good.
By cooking ratatouille in summer, you’ll get fresh tomatoes, which are an essential part of the dish, whereas they're not as good in winter. Ratatouille season is between June and October.
If you want it to be in season, consider growing your ingredients. Not only will you know that they’re in season, but you’ll also know that they’re organic and ecological.
We also recommend that you make your ratatouille the night before you plan to eat it or in the morning as it’s much better reheated. The same is true for dishes like poulet basquaise (Basque chicken).
While we often eat ratatouille warm, you can eat it cold.
Different Types of Ratatouille
Ratatouille is usually made with courgettes, aubergines, and tomatoes. Then you add garlic, onions, peppers, and seasoning like thyme, parsley, salt, pepper, etc.
For example, why not add a few more vegetables?
You can always change the recipe.
Not like aubergines?
Replace them with leeks, cabbage, chickpeas. You can change the flavours for something you prefer. It’s also a way to breathe new life into an old recipe.
Why not serve ratatouille with something else?
Rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, etc. Ratatouille is a dish that works with plenty of other drier ingredients.
Trying new things will ensure that your cooking remains interesting.
Where Can You Learn to Cook Ratatouille?
Each family has its ratatouille recipe and it varies from household to household. Recipes are passed from generation to generation which means learning how to cook ratatouille will differ depending on who your teacher is.
If nobody taught you growing up, don’t worry! You can always teach yourself how to make a ratatouille. You just need to practise with the recipe we showed you earlier. It mightn’t be perfect the first time but bit by bit, you’ll work out what works and what doesn’t, what you like and what you don’t.
You’ll soon create your recipe.
Once you get confident with making your ratatouille, you can always adapt it to what's available and what's in season. Be it red pepper flakes, peeled yellow squash, fresh thyme, there's plenty of ways to experiment with the recipe.
You can also get cooking lessons and learn from somebody else how to make ratatouille. You’ll benefit from professional advice. Don’t forget you can also get private cooking tutorials. It’s not just the top chefs who can make a great ratatouille. There are plenty of cooking tutors all over the country who can help you make it.
Go for it!
If you'd like to learn more about cooking or learn how to cook, consider learning with a private tutor on Superprof. No matter where you are, you can find a private tutor to help you. On the platform, there are three types of tutorial on offer: face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials.
Face-to-face private tutorials involve just the student and the tutor, ensuring that the student has the tutor's undivided attention. Additionally, the tutor will tailor their lessons and course to the student. Of course, the tutor's time comes at a price and while these types of tutorials are the most cost-effective, they also tend to be the most costly per hour.
If you're looking for something cheaper, there are online private tutorials. These tutorials are provided remotely via webcam and as long as both you and the tutor have a decent internet connection, a webcam, and a microphone, you can get tutorials from tutors all over the world. Since the tutor doesn't need to travel to you, they have fewer overheads and can schedule more tutorials each week, allowing them to charge less per hour. Of course, these tutorials are great for academic subjects but not so great for hands-on subjects.
Finally, you can also get group tutorials. Since each student pays their share of the tutor's time, these tend to work out cheaper than any other type of tutorials. Of course, you won't get the tutor's undivided attention like you would with the other types of tutorial. That said, if you and a group of friends all would like to learn how to cook, this is a great way to do it.