The Musette: a riff on ratatouille and caponata

I generally love shopping daily, finding inspiration in the local shops and markets for the day’s meals. However, when I’m on my own, I’m quite happy to make a pot of something which I can use in a number of different ways for a variety of meals. Often necessity is the mother of invention and the dish comes from whatever I have sitting in the fridge.

I love Ratatouille, a dish hailing from Nice, because it’s one way of using the abundance of summer sun-ripened vegetables. As a general rule, I use equal quantities of each vegetable – tomatoes, peppers, onions, courgettes and aubergines. I would generally sauté each vegetable separately in olive oil and assemble them at the end, as in my lasagne recipe. This guarantees that each one retains its colour, flavour and texture. However, on my regime I’m not supposed to sauté vegetables in olive oil plus I didn’t have any courgettes, so I opted for a mix of the Niçois dish with some ingredients from one which is typically Sicilian, Caponata. Note, I used passata rather than fresh tomato sauce because I was also out of fresh tomatoes!

Ingredients (serves 6 as a side dish, or 4 as a main)

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (neutral flavoured)
  • 2 small aubergines, cut into 2cm (1″) cubes
  • 1 large red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli pepper, finely chopped, or tsp chilli flakes
  • 4 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 celery stalks or small fennel bulb, cut into 2cm (1″) pieces
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 150g (1 cup) black olives, pitted
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  •  500ml (2 cups) passata or 4 very large tomatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Method

1. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and place them in a  saucepan with a pinch of salt. Gently bring to the boil and cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened. Strain through a food mill or large-holed sieve to remove the skins.

2. Heat 1tbsp coconut oil a large saucepan, sweat the red onion, red chilli pepper, red pepper and garlic over a medium heat for 10 minutes until lightly caramelised. Add 2 tbsp of tomato paste and cook lightly to get rid of its raw flavour.

3. Now, add the diced aubergines, strained tomatoes or passata, and season. Bring to the boil, cover with greaseproof (parchment) paper, clamp on the lid and simmer gently for an hour. The parchment paper prevents the mixture from drying out. You’ll need to cook it for this long to soften the aubergine. Alternatively, fry both aubergine and pepper in olive oil and cook for only 20 minutes.

4. If the capers are salted, soak them for 2 minutes, then drain. If brined or in vinegar, drain and rinse. Add the capers and olives, stir and leave to sit for at least 2 hours, stirring gently once or twice. The finished dish needs to rest for at least an hour – ideally three. It’s even better the next day, and keeps well in the fridge for up to four days.

5. This dish can be served either at room temperature or cold, as a main or side dish. I also love it as a sauce with penne or heaped over some sweet potatoes or cauliflower rice.

6. You can make it more Sicilian by adding a handful of raisins, toasted pine nuts, a tbsp of sugar and 2 tbsp of red wine vinegar for a sweet-sour hit. I’ll often do this a couple of days later to give it a slightly different flavour.

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