It must be summer because the zucchinis (aka courgettes) have started to arrive en masse in the organic box. As anyone who gardens can attest to, where there is one zucchini, there are many many more. And I guess with all these zucchini around, I’ve been thinking about what to do with them. Two things struck my craving: Ratatouille and Minestrone Soup.
Given the UK’s typically cold and damp weather, I’m almost always in the mood for soup. But strangely, it’s been all sunshine and blue skies for the past week or two. What is going on? I’m walking around in shorts and a t-shirt like I’m back in Austin, Texas again. I’m not complaining. But I’m also not in the mood for a hot bowl of steaming liquid.
So I decided to create a hybrid of ratatouille and minestrone by taking the ingredients from minestrone and cooking them as you would a ratatouille. And how is that, you might ask?
Coincidentally, Nigel Slater published a recipe in last Sunday’s Guardian for classic ratatouille. He reckons that the secret to delicious ratatouille is to cook the vegetables separately, then combine and roast them together.
One reason ratatouille may have lost favour is because it is too often cooked like a stew, with all the ingredients lumped in together. It takes longer to cook them separately, but the individual attention allows each ingredient to keep its own character. You end up with layers of flavour rather than a casserole. Like quiche, this is better served warm than hot.
So I decided to try this approach with my minestrone ingredients: onion, garlic, zucchini, red pepper, celery, carrot, tomatoes and white butter beans. I fried each ingredient separately (except the beans) then combined and roasted them together for 40 minutes, then let it cool before serving.
This ratatouille minestrone hybrid is seriously one of the most delicious things I’ve cooked ever.
The only thing missing was the eggplant, a staple of ratatouille and one of my favourite foods, but alas, I didn’t have any that evening. Nigel may be on to something – the flavours of all the veggies really did come through, and I was surprised by how well the celery worked in the mix.
What I love about ratatouille is that its a great vehicle for other foods. Put it in an omelet, bake it into bread as Rachel Demuth does, have it on a sandwich, or do as I did and eat it with some grilled polenta. Add a sprinkle of parmesan if you’d like, or leave it off for a totally delicious vegan experience.
Nigel cuts his veggies large, but I like mine a bit more finely chopped. I think they’re more versatile that way, but feel free to do as you wish.
I’m not the only one thinking about zucchini lately. Check out Tinned Tomatoes round-up of zucchini-related recipes from around the web, and Allotment2Kitchen’s fabulous courgette potato cakes.
Ratatouille Minestrone Hybrid
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 400g tin chopped plum tomatoes, drained
- 1-2 cups butter beans or other white bean, cooked
- a few sprigs of thyme (or a sprinkle of dried)
- a handful of fresh basil leaves
- salt and pepper
- Sweat the onions in olive oil until they are soft, add the garlic and cook until soft. Remove to a deep roasting tin or baking dish.
- Fry each of the other vegetables separately, adding more oil as necessary, until each is pale gold. Remove as each one is ready and add to the tin or dish, followed by the tomatoes and butter beans, seasoning with salt, black pepper and thyme. Give everything a good mix around.
- Bake at 180C/gas mark 4 for about 40 minutes until soft and tender. If you have time, let it cool down a bit. Stir gently with a handful of torn basil leaves and serve.
Related links and posts
Nigel Slater’s Classic Ratatouille [Guardian]
Courgette Potato Cakes [allotment2kitchen]
Zucchini Round Up [Tinned Tomatoes]