Eggplant with a terrific zing

Relax with a ''rat'': A summer evening with friends is made special with a ratatouille and grilled meat or fish from the barbecue.
Relax with a ''rat'': A summer evening with friends is made special with a ratatouille and grilled meat or fish from the barbecue.

In his online summer series Joseph Beaumont revisits some of his favourite recipes and provides hints and tips plus suggestions for the odd tipple to make them even more enjoyable.

The first ratatouille I ate was cooked in a previous life by my French mother-in-law. It was a revelation. Who could have guessed that stewed vegetables could be so delectable?

One reason was Yvonne's skill. Although she modestly claimed to be an amateur, her standards were exacting. The other was the combination of vegetables used in the recipe that originated in Provençe in the 1500s, following Columbus' voyages to the New World.

Now tomatoes and peppers, the new kids on the block, could be combined with onion and aubergine, the star of the quartet. Bingo! (Courgettes - zucchini - were a much later addition; they were first bred in Italy.)

There are as many versions of the Niçoise specialty as there are cooks, the variations being mainly in the proportions of each vegetable used. What they all have in common is a fruity olive oil. Stirring in lemon juice at the end gives the dish a terrific zing.

Hot, warm or cold, ratatouille is wonderful with barbecued meat or fish, with cold meats or on its own with a dollop of yoghurt. Poach some eggs in it and watch the kids tuck in!

Joe's tips: 

*Do not peel the aubergines or courgettes as the skin provides flavour and texture.

*Salting: To reduce the amount of oil that the aubergine soaks up, scatter the cubes with salt, which breaks down the spongy cells (and extracts any bitterness). Leave for an hour, rinse in a colander, pat dry thoroughly in a clean tea towel and proceed.

*Add a couple of cloves of finely sliced garlic (when the onions are golden) if you like.

Drinks, anyone?

This is a robust vegetable dish with many flavours, so lots of wine options here, including pinot grigio, pino gris, riesling, sauvignon blanc, semillon, chardonnay and rosé.

A pinot noir would also work if pairing the ratatouille with lamb.

Serves 4

2 medium aubergines, chopped in 2cm chunks

1/2 cup olive oil
1 large red onion, finely diced

2 red or green peppers, chopped in 2cm pieces

3 courgettes, sliced about 1cm thick
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

generous cup of chopped parsley

juice of half a lemon


Salt, rinse and dry aubergine chunks (see Joe's tips).

Heat oil in a heavy casserole and saute onion over a medium heat until limp and golden.

Add aubergine and peppers, cover and cook gently for 15 minutes.

Add courgettes and tomatoes and cook for a further 30 minutes.

Remove lid, stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until vegetables are to your liking.

Just before serving, stir in lemon juice. Cook's tip

Choose aubergines that are shiny, free of blemishes and wrinkles and heavy for their size.
Peeling is not necessary, nor is salting if they are to be stuffed or baked.

The Southland Times