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Classic French country cuisine – Ratatouille

There are some things you just don’t want to mess with, one of them being a mom’s special signature dish.  So when the Mister pleaded with me (over and over again) to make his childhood favourite, ratatouille, for dinner, I was a little bit reluctant, to say the least.  The final straw was when I heard the words uttered “comon, my mom used to always make me ratatouille, it’s one of my favourites!” that I knew I couldn’t get out of it.  Not wanting to stand down to “maman” and her formidable ratatouille, I jumped on the internet to research the quickest yet tastiest option.

Now, this “maman” in question is quintessentially French, and floats on a cloud of chicness.  Upon our visits back to France, we would find her regularly in meticulously tailored attire, heels and lacquered red nails, calmly dishing out delicious home-cooked French classics from her tastefully decorated kitchen (complete with red cabinets and 20 beautiful hanging copper pots!).

It’s not easy trying to tackle a dish I’ve never made before, especially after a long day at work.  But not wanting to disappoint, I whipped up this healthy and (remarkably) tasty meal in under 30 minutes.

Now, this is a light, no-carbs meal, so I added a bit of oomph by grilling up a couple of marinated chicken breast.  You can find the recipe for this – click here, just eliminate the cumin from the original recipe.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 long eggplant, coarsely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 squash or zucchini, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tomatos, diced
  • a spring of thyme
  • a good handful of basil & parsley, diced
  • sugar / salt to taste
  • chicken breasts (optional)

In a heavy based pot, drizzle in around 1 tbls of olive oil.  Over medium heat, sizzle the red onion for a few minutes until they begin to caramelise. Red onions are naturally sweet, so the heat will bring out more of that ruby sugar.

Add in the cubed eggplants and sprinkle with thyme.  Fresh is best, but as you can see here, I used dry, which is also perfectly fine.  Just take note that dried herbs are more pungent so a smaller amount is required.

Toss the vegetables together and cook for another 5 minutes.

Once the eggplant has began to soften, add in the red peppers and squash cubes.  Turn this all together and make sure everyone is nice and cosy in the pot.

After about 5 minutes, add in the tomatoes.  Now, the tomatoes would have bleed out some liquids, and I like to keep the juice and pour this also into the pot.

Toss all the ingredients together and adjust for seasoning.  This is really based on your own taste.  I like to add about 1/2 tbls of sugar to balance out the acidity of the tomato, and also about 2 tsp of salt.  This, again, depends on the quantity of your vegetables so please be free-spirited here.

After the vegetables have simmered together for another 5 minutes, turn the heat off and add the handfuls of fresh parsley and basil.  I love adding fresh herbs at the end of the cooking process to preserve the vibrant flavours and beautiful lush colours.

Now, ratatouille is best served at room temperature, so allow the flavours to marry together in the pot.  Meanwhile, heat up the grill over high heat and sear some chicken breasts.  I like to first flatten the chicken with a meat mallet to around 1 inch thickness, so they cook evenly.  I then grill each side for about 4 minutes over high / medium heat.  Remember, I’ve pre-marinated these fillets to ensure they pack loads of flavour.

Voila!  Blanket each beautifully golden grilled chicken fillet with a colourful bouquet of vegetables.

Bon Appetit!

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