a little bit on the side: winter ratatouille

winter ratatouille
(baked courgettes with piperade)
I try to buy and cook seasonal British produce, I really do. But I get cravings, cravings so cantankerous that I cannot deny myself the pleasures of food of the sun. When I give in it stops my stomach from belly-aching. I just can't help myself and this time it is all the fault of television schedulers.

Eh? Wha?

Well, over Christmas, on the rare occasions I turned on the telly, it seemed that at least one channel was showing Pixar's charming animation, Ratatouille and the moment that the jaded and embittered old restaurant critic, Anton Ego, tastes a slice of heaven and relives simple childhood pleasures as he tastes a plate of perfect ratatouille. I am convinced that my craving for ratatoulle was being fed on some subliminal level!

Ratatouille doesn't take me back to my childhood, but it is probably fair to say that I subsisted on ratatouille in my impoverished vegetarian student days, when what little money I had went on vintage clothing, gigs and cheap red wine. I would spend hours down the Kirkgate Market in Leeds trawling for cheap vegetables to sustain my lifestyle. Any disposable income was splurged on good mascara rather than on food.

Admittedly my version from those days was more a vegetable stew - a little bit mushy but full of flavour. SoI was intrigued by the version served up in Ratatouille, which was based on the famous chef, Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi, a more refined version of the French classic.

My winter ratatouille is based on Keller's version, here, but lacks about half the ingredients! It is merely courgettes, baked on a base of piperade and topped with a light piperade vinaigrette.

Keller's version is very slowly baked in the oven and the vegetables get to know each other, slowly steaming in each other's company. It is fabulous. The vegetables retain a little bit of bite and are imbued with sweet caramelised onion and herb flavours.

I can't wait until June when courgettes and other Mediterranean vegetables are in season, so I served this last Sunday with our roast chicken. It was gorgeous, and besides, courgettes are in season somewhere in the world.

winter ratatouille (baked courgettes with piperade)
(adapted from Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi)
Serves 4
Skill level: Easy

1 x red pepper, deseeded
half x yellow pepper, deseeded
2 tbsp olive oil
2 x garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1 x English onion, finely chopped
200g tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and finely chopped (reserve the tomato juices)
1 x fresh thyme sprig
1 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, very finely chopped
1 x bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper
300g courgettes, sliced into rounds (about the thickness of a £1 coin)
1 x garlic clove, very finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
fresh herbs (basil, parsley and thyme)
salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220C / Gas Mark 7.
  2. Make the piperade by placing the pepper halves on a lightly oiled baking tray, cut side down. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the skin begins to char and bubble. Remove from the oven and place in a plastic bad for about 10 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Skin the peppers and chop into small pieces.Heat the oil in a large saucepan and tip in the onion with a pinch of salt. Cook over a low heat for about 8 minutes, before adding the garlic. Continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until the onions are softening.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, any juices, the thyme, parsley and bay leaf. Bring to the boil and then simmer over a low heat until the tomatoes are soft and the liquid has reduced by about half. This should take about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the peppers and simmer until they are soft. Season to taste and remove the thyme stem (but not the leaves) and the bay leaf. Put 1 tablespoon of the piperade aside (you will need this for the vinaigrette) and spread the rest of the piperade over the bottom of an ovenproof dish; about 20 centimetres in diameter.
  5. Reduce the oven temperature to 140C / Gas Mark 1.
  6. Arrange the courgettes over the piperade in an overlapping pattern. (You may not have room for all the vegetables.)
  7. Combine the garlic, oil and thyme leaves in a small bowl. Season to taste and then sprinkle over the courgettes.
  8. Cut a piece of greaseproof paper the same size as the ovenproof dish. Lightly butter or oil the paper and then place, buttered side down over the top of the vegetables. Cover the pan with foil and tuck the foil in tightly to seal well. Bake the vegetables for about 1.5 hours, then bake uncovered for another 30 minutes. (If the vegetables look as if they might be browning, then cover with foil again.
  9. You can serve immediately but this dish is much better if you allow to cool and then refrigerate overnight. (It will stay fresh for up to 2 days in the fridge).
  10. The dish can be served cold, or reheated until warm (about 10 to 15 minutes) at 180C / Gas Mark 4.
  11. Make the vinaigrette by combining the reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and a little salt and pepper.
  12. Serve either warm or at room temperature with the vinaigrette drizzled over.


  • This is a dish which improves with age - it is definitely nicer if left for a day to allow the flavours to develop.
  • Lovely as a side dish with fish or roasted meats.
  • Serve with pasta, rice, couscous or a baked potato.
  • Stuff pancakes or top an omelette or top garlic bruschetta.
  • Sprinkle over a little Parmesan or Pecorino cheese and grill under a hot grill for a few minutes before serving.

No comments: