Ratatouille with Okra, just because!

Serves: ~8
Cost: ~€3.80, depending on the season
Preparation and cooking time: ~2 hours
Calories: ~150 per serving

Autumn is now in full swing. The not entirely great weather of summer has now given way to colder days and rain – oh, so much rain. With the change in weather comes a desire on my side to avoid fancy, delicate dishes and move on to things which are altogether more warming and hearty in nature. What could be more delicious on a cold, rainy day than a delicious bowl of richly flavoured stew – maybe with a generous drizzle of home-made chilli oil as well? The piquant oil goes amazingly with the velvety vegetables and after all, you don’t want it too healthy! You have to lay in those winter fat reserves, right? (Or at least you would have to if you were a polar bear).

Today I’m going to be making ratatouille – a delightful stew, originating from Nice, in France. There are a great many ways in which ratatouille can be prepared – both from the preparation of the original ingredients to how it’s all brought together at the end. Purists maintain that the vegetables should be cooked separately beforehand – as in “aubergine separately”, “courgette separately”, “bell pepper separately” – in order to conserve the individual flavours, but seriously… who has time for that? I opt for the one pot approach, and unlike some people who prefer to cook it all up in the oven, I keep it in a pot and simmer it slowly on the stove. The whole process fills the kitchen with a fantastic aroma and the end product is a delicious plate of glossy, stewed vegetables in a rich sauce which you can store in the refrigerator and eat for days to come. It’s incredibly healthy, being pretty much entirely vegetables, with a splash of oil added, and timed right, seasonally speaking, isn’t too expensive to make at all. Often served with rice or pasta, I personally prefer to dip a great big hunk of baguette inside. Good, hearty, warming food – for me, it doesn’t get much better than this right now. I added okra into this ratatouille, for no particular reason other than a whim. It’s not at all a common ingredient here but I had some in the refrigerator which I wanted to use up so in it went. I did overcook the dish a teensy bit. Compared to my last pan of ratatouille the vegetables significantly lost their structure which made for a much less attractive dish, even though it was just as delicious – if not a little more so, because it was almost creamy in texture because of the soft, delicious aubergine.

Ratatouille

Before I get moving on that though, I thought you’d like to see some photos. On what seems to be a rare fine day these days, we went for a walk in Versailles on Sunday. Specifically to the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses. The second largest water feature at Versailles, with a surface area of 15 hectares, and named after the Swiss Guard who constructed the lake in 1678.

Piece d'eau des Suisses

The lake is surrounded by long straight avenues of trees and is home to a number of swans and ducks – and also some seagulls, when there’s food to be had. There were a few families out with picnics, making the most of probably one of the last clement days of the year and so the birds of various species were out in full scavenging force.

A Swan

The area with the lake is actually right across the road from the main château grounds. Looking North you can see the huge flight of stone steps which lead up to the Parterre d’Eau, another small water feature behind the château itself.

Versailles Chateau Gardens

Walking around the lake is all well and good but after a while you kind of want to sit down – especially when carting a baby around in a sling – and I kid you not… there was not even one bench around the whole lake so we decided to call it a day and started wandering back to the car. Suddenly though – snack attack! I guess the walk worked up a bit of an appetite in us because we had a real urge to eat croissants, or cookies, or both! The hunt was on for a purveyor of pastries!

Back street

Finally we found a bakery and went a bit nuts. We bought a croissant, some chouquettes and a cookie whose name escapes me now, but it’s basically two giant shortbread cookies, liberally dusted with icing sugar, and sandwiched together with raspberry jam. Yum! I saved my cookie until I got home and could enjoy it with a nice cup of coffee! Clutching our bags of assorted baked goods we headed to the car and saw a couple who must have recently been married, taking some photos of themselves decked out in their wedding suit and dress.

Wedding couple

Everyone say “aww”! Safely back at home though, I got to finally enjoy the thing I’d been looking forward too – my cookie – and very nice it was too, enjoying it on the balcony, at least until it started raining outside! Have a great day everyone – I hope you liked the photos and let me know if you have a chance to try the ratatouille!

Mmmm, Coffee and Cookies

Ratatouille

Ingredients

I make a large quantity at once, but feel free to scale down as you prefer.

Ratatouille ingredients

  • 2-3 large Aubergines
  • 2-3 Courgettes
  • 4 Bell Peppers (colours of your choice)
  • 3-6 Onions, depending on size
  • ~6 cloves of Garlic
  • 3 x 400g cans of crushed Tomatoes
  • A couple of handfuls of Okra (optional)
  • 4tbsps Olive Oil
  • 2-3tbsps Plain Flour
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 2tsps dried Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Start off by washing and roughly chopping the okra (if using), the aubergine and the courgette. De-seed the bell peppers and cut into long, wide strips. Peel the onions and garlic. Chop the garlic finely but the onion into good sized chunks. Set aside while you heat the olive oil in a large pan.
    Chopped veggies
  2. Place the onion and garlic into the heated olive oil and fry lightly for a couple of minutes. Add in the aubergine and cook through lightly, stirring regularly. After a few minutes, add in the flour to the aubergine and stir well to break up any lumps and ensure that any flour is well mixed with the oil and juices in the pan. Add in the rest of the ingredients except the salt and pepper. Once you have added in the canned tomatoes, rinse out the cans with cold water and add this to the pan as well.
    Cooking it all up
  3. Bring the pan to the boil before lowering the heat slightly and letting the pot simmer away for about an hour or two, stirring regularly. Make sure you leave the pot uncovered so the sauce can reduce down and thicken in the pot. After 1-2 hours you should have a rich, deep-flavoured stew. Season to taste with salt and pepper and enjoy with some good bread or rice or pasta and enjoy!
    Ratatouille

Comments

  1. says

    That stew looks very hearty and great for the cold weather. Sorry to hear you’ve been having so much rain. The photos of France are gorgeous, even if the weather is not the best. I can’t believe there wasn’t a single park bench! xx

    • says

      Thanks Charlie. I think it’s been raining now for about a week straight it seems… well, at least we don’t need to worry about a drought :D

  2. says

    It’s only been a short while since William joined you but I suspect it feels like he’s always been with you.

    One day in the not too distant future he’s going to look at you and say, “I don’t like that.” You’ll ask why and he’ll say, “I don’t know.” and you’ll make him a peanut butter sandwich.

    When that happens I’ll have his dish of ratatouille, please.

    • says

      Hi Maureen – I can say now that I’ll never be giving my son a PB&J sandwich in place of proper dinner any time soon, haha, but I will be sure to make an extra bowl for you, should you happen to drop by :D

      • says

        When I had my son (the first grandchild) my sister said she’d never do this or that if SHE had a child. I laughed. I knew.

        When they’re cranky, crying and beside themselves because they’re overtired and they ask for a peanut butter sandwich – from my recollection, that’s what they got and then went to bed.

        My mother had the rule of eat what’s on the plate or eat nothing. My brother got rickets and was dangerously underweight. Some kids have a lot of willpower. :) My mother was mortified and from that point on, Jim could make his own if he didn’t like it after tasting everything.

        • says

          lol!lol!lol! Maureen, you crack me up. But you know what? I have that rule too and I am very strict about it (though it’s easier now when they are older). But Charles, I am so afraid she is right. They do get around to having those PB&J sandwiches…just because….in fact, for one entire year my toddler survived on ‘bread, butter & ketchup’….I am not kidding. Things came to a point where we were happy simply because he was eating. There were only three other things he would eat if he had the mood – butter chicken, Hot Dog and ice cream.He would starve but not eat. It’s amazing how adamant kids can be. It was possibly the most difficult one year of my motherhood. But then the doc said – if that’s what he eats, it’s OK.Do it and he will get over it. He did. Thank God!

  3. says

    Well done Charles. Ratatouille is not easy to photograph (strange to think I’m at a stage in my blogging life that I recognize that ;-)) – you’ve done a great job – the close-up shot is luminous. I’m all for warm and hearty these days too… it has been raining all weekend (I’ll spare you any Irish reflections on that – haha). Always appreciative of your snaps – particularly enjoying the bride and groom… how fun is that; and of course the ‘Charles’ mug :). I hope you enjoyed your cookie!

    • says

      Thank you Kelly – I have to admit I wasn’t entirely happy with the photo alas. Thanks to me being a muppet and stewing it up for too long nothing really had any structure anymore – still though, I guess it looks at least not *terrible* :)

  4. says

    Great post Charles, and that area around Versailles is indeed lovely. We were there with my dear mother’s husband, shortly after she passed in 2005. We ate lunch on a beautiful patio with palm trees!
    Our fall is hideous too; it’s cold too and teaming rain as I write this snuggled under blankets, very depressing.
    As Kelly mentioned, it really isn’t easy to photograph stews, but if you’re feeling up to it, you can par cook a few extra veggies and insert them (not too many) back in for the photo. The other thing I’ve done (for work) is to take out some better looking specimens, wash them and reinsert them.
    I know okra adds to the glossiness, but ewe, not my favourite vegetable! In fact, it is my least favourite! But then again, we have made ratatouille with whatever was on hand too, such a versatile dish.

    • says

      Hi Eva – thanks for the tips – I’ll give it a try next time, although also it wouldn’t normally be *quite* this mushed up, haha :)

      I can’t believe you dislike okra… it always seems so…… benign to me. So harmless and delicious! Is it the squishy gunk that oozes out what you dislike so much?

      • says

        I never even gave okra a thought until one day we had to photograph it at work. I was styling and was asked to slice it into 0.5cm slices. As I was working away this alien gunk started oozing out of it. It looked repulsive, absolutely disgusting. I just can’t get past it. I know a lot of Cajun cooking uses okra as a thickener. It just make me gag.

        • says

          Haha, but, does that mean you’ve never even tried it? I think I saw a recipe for it grilled recently, which didn’t even involve slicing it up. It’s yummy – would totally recommend it if you’ve never had it!

  5. says

    Ok, awww ….
    I’m all for the one-pot approach!
    This dish looks so comforting. Our weather here isn’t as cool as yours but it’s been raining constantly and this would be perfect to have with some good crusty bread, curled up in my favorite chair …. ahhhh ….

  6. says

    Charles, you are right to prepare ratatouille now because soon it will be too late for summer vegetables. Your ratatouille looks fabulous and very original with okra. This being said, I am one of those purists you mention who always grill/fry everything separately and then put the half-cooked vegetables together with tomatoes. (I posted it I think a year ago).
    Lovely photos! Especially the bride and groom.

    • says

      Hi Sissi, thank you! It’s been a while since I had ratatouille but I’ve been eating it a lot recently… it’s SO good, isn’t it?

      You know, I will try the “pure” way of making it one day, like you. To me it seems like so much effort, so many dirty pans. Does it really make the flavour that much better? How do you cook it up once you mix with the tomatoes? Do you put in a pot on the stove or in the oven? Well, actually, I should go and look at your post – I’m sure that will answer any questions I might have :D

      • says

        I’m so sorry, Charles, but I have only received your second reply and I have just found this one in spam (!!!). Luckily I check my spam emails from time to time…
        Anyway, I wanted to say that for me cooking the vegetables separately is important most of all to keep different textures. For example I like my courgette crunchy… On the other hand I once served my ratatouille to someone who preferred it softer and “confite” as the French say… (He has also reproached me the small amount of oil ;-) ). Otherwise, of course the difference is not huge, but I think it’s worth trying and seeing if it’s worth all the pans’ washing up (although I would probably just wipe the frying pan between different vegetables, especially since now I use only traditional steel pans and never really wash them in a very violent way).

        • says

          Crunchy courgette in ratatouille? Gah! Give me courgette mush or give me death! I love it when it’s like how it turned out above. Visually… not *that* appealing, but just a big mush of different flavours and textures all merging into one! You know, I’m going to try it your way next time though… for science! I can then at least formulate a fair opinion!

    • says

      By the way, I notice they always seem to serve it cold, in summer here, but for me it’s a perfect winter dish, even if the ingredients aren’t really “wintery”. Luckily one can buy aubergine and courgette and pepper all year round these days :)

      • says

        Charles, apart from aubergine (and maybe some exceptions like potato ;-) ), I usually don’t like mushy vegetables and I think mushy courgette is the one I really hate, so this separate cooking method works best for my palate…
        I often have problems when visiting some friends or family because most of them serve mushy carrots, mushy courgette, no longer crunchy green beans etc..

        • says

          Oh, for me it’s all about context – mushy carrots or green beans can be really bad, but it really depends on the dish you’re eating I think – sometimes it’s delicious like this :)

  7. says

    Mmmm….your ratatouille looks amazing! I need hubby to go on another business trip so I can make a big batch and savor it for days!!! Loved hearing how you met up with Eva…I think we need a blogger conference in Paris!!!

  8. says

    I agree, Charles, it is definitely the time of year to begin simmer soups and stews.. and now I can add ratatouille to the list. I had no idea it originated in France.. I guess the name should have been a clue for me:) What an excellent walk and I did say Awww.. young love is so sweet, isn’t it!

    • says

      Hi Barb – I love the stuff right now – it’s one of those perfect things for the weather now. I could eat bowl after bowl of it!

      I love the kid in the background in the wedding couple photo :D

    • says

      Hi Angie – I’ve never understood the okra-hate… I really find it so tasty and really interesting too, how it oozes out all that sticky gunk :D

  9. says

    This stew looks amazing! Wow, that’s alot of onions! This would be perfect for a Meatless Monday dish over at my house.
    Great pics, makes me want to go to France with the family one day.

    • says

      Hi Lisa – the onions were actually really small, which is why I used a good handful. Normally I would have kept it to about 2 or 3, depending on the size!

      Hope you can make it to France one day – I’ll show you all some sights :)

      • says

        Over 20 years ago I went to Paris with the French club. My husband just started working for an insurance company, the top sales people win a free trip to Paris all expenses paid. Unfortunately, my husband won’t qualify since he just started working for this company unless he sells like crazy ’til the end of the year. I’m hoping when my little one (just turned 3 last week) gets a bit bigger, we can take a family trip to Italy and France. You bet I’ll be contacting you when that time comes! :)

        • says

          Wow, nice incentive – fingers crossed for lots of insurance sales from him then!! Even if you have to wait a little bit though, I hope you can make it eventually. If I can offer some advice – don’t try to cram too much into one trip. I know a lot of people who come to visit and they come up with outrageously busy schedules – it must leave them feeling exhausted. Personally If I was away for 1 week I’d aim to spend almost all that time in one city. You can easily spend a week in Paris as a tourist and love every minute of it… there’s no need to schedule 1 day for Paris, 1 day for another city, 1 day for another and then move on to another European country… that’s just my personal thoughts though – maybe if you know it’s going to be a once in a lifetime kind of thing you may want to fit more in to the trip! :)

        • says

          Great tip, Charles. I’m hoping we can take a 2 or 3 week trip. Stay at my Grandma’s house in Italy for a week to 10 days or so, visit family. Then go to Paris and stay there for about 4 or 5 days. One of my best friends is from France, she is from southern France but her husband is from Paris, we alway talk about meeting up in Paris on vacation after we both see our families and then we can hang out and relax w/ our families. Yeah, you are right, I know it’s exhausting traveling city to city and trying to cram everything in a trip. Something to definitely think about. :)

        • says

          Your plan sounds perfect – I read a forum with people posting their proposed travel plans and asking what people think, and it’s always something like: “Hey guys, I’m travelling to Europe, what do you think of my itinerary:
          1st November: arrive in London
          2nd: London
          3rd: Travel to Paris
          4th: Paris
          5th: Travel to Oslo
          6th: Oslo
          … etc etc”

          Basically, 14-20 days of travelling around Europe, spending about 36 hours total in each city. Sounds like my idea of a nightmare :D

  10. says

    This is the first time I’ve ever seen ratatouille with okra but it makes total sense. Ratatouille is a fall stew and okra is a fall vegetable. I’m sure the okra tends to thicken the stew a little. I use is to thicken my gumbos and it’s great. What a wonderful dish Charles! Thanks for the pictures of your area! I know I’ll never see your part of the world, so seeing it through your eyes is quite enjoyable! Love the picture of the married couple on the stairs.

    • says

      Hi MJ – it actually worked really well, and it’s kind of a stew/gumbo-ey vegetable, so it’s perfect for this usage really.

      Do you not think you would ever be able to take a little vacation here? In any case, if you can’t then it’s all the more incentive for me to take more photos from around here to show to everyone :)

    • says

      Thanks Marta – it might not look visually as impressive as the one from the movie but it was still a warming, delicious meal – something I could eat over and over! Glad you enjoyed the photos! :)

  11. says

    I was kind of put of ratatouille after I saw that disgusting rat movie…eeeew. Mkes me shudder. BUT, rats can’t cook so its ok to make this. Yours looks so comforting and creamy and I absolutely love aubergines, okra not so much but I can try it out :)
    Hope you enjoyed your cookie, looks like a Linzer.

    Nazneen

    • says

      Hahahaha, ah, come on – that movie was SO cute :D. I never heard anyone have anything but good things to say about that movie before – this is a first! Still though… guarantee rat-free, this dish! :)

  12. says

    I wasn’t aware that you have to cook veggies separately. A lot of Japanese dishes sometimes involve those “separate” cooking too and it’s very time consuming (even though I know the theory of it). Your ratatouille with Okra looks wonderful, Charles! I LOOOVE Okra! I put it in a lot of dishes and last year my husband warned me that we don’t need to put okra in every dish. I know he’s exaggerating (or maybe not). ;) I love your ratatouille!

    • says

      Hi Nami, I envy you – Okra is crazy expensive here. It’s not common in Europe at all and actually I never knew what it was. I used to see it in the “exotic vegetables section” in my local supermarket labelled as “Gombo” (okra, in French) and had no idea until I started seeing it on peoples’ blogs, so I decided to give it a shot – so glad I did :)

  13. says

    Was the dish as rich in flavour as it is in colour in that first shot Charles? I find that the girls will eat a meal like this when it is accompanied by some lovely crusty bread…and I of course love it because it is healthy. This looks a winner!

    • says

      Hi Barb – it was so good, even if it was a bit mushy. So sad, because the first batch I made held its shape perfectly. Still though – really nice, and with that spicy oil on top too… mmm! :)

  14. says

    Now this is my kind of stew – no carrots, no peas and no beans! This has all the veggies that I actually like. :) I’ve never tried a ratatouille before. I remember Mr. N’s preschool class made a version one year. He came home and said he didn’t like it. I bet he might now.

    Great pictures of your tours around town too. I love the picture of the do not enter signs at the roadway. Striking shot. So is the shot of that cookie. Mmmmm!

    • says

      Haha, but carrots, peas and beans are so good! You should try a ratatouille – especially if you ever do France as one of your food destinations. If you guys ever visit here you *have* to try an “Andouillette de Troyes”. Well, actually no – I wouldn’t wish one on my worst enemy, but it’s considered a, ahem, delicacy over here and some people really love it. It’s definitely an “experience” :D

      Glad you like the photos – next time we’ll cross the road and go into the Chateau grounds themselves… wander down the road the big “canal” – this huge cross-shaped water feature.

  15. says

    The cookies are “Linzer Augen”! they are actually Austrian, not sure if there is a french version of those. They are my favorite Christmas cookies (and otherwise as well. =)

    Ratatouille, oui fille le plat! =D

    So cool that u tried it to make with okra. You wanted to impress me, right? =P I had the same thought that day. no idea why I never went further in trying out. How did u managed the slimyness? I usually add little vinegar or lemon to remove the slime while cooking okra. maybe you can try adding vinegar, but then it will be more like a Goan bhaji then a Rattatouille. maybe your okra isn’t that slimy like ours here.

    Such pretty pictures, Oh I miss home a bit right now.

    • says

      Hi Helene, if they are Austrian then the French seem to have stolen them because they sell them all year round, under the name “Lunette Framboise” (I was finally able to find the name in Google, and a picture here).

      I actually had no problem with the sliminess. There was a bit of ooze, but nothing compared to what people seem to have when they talk about it. Maybe it’s lost a little in the journey from the US to EU or something (I guess it’s imported from US or something… it’s really expensive here and sold in the “exotic vegetable” section in the store.

      Thanks for the tip though – If I ever find it really slimy then I’ll try using lemon juice or something.

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