I have a vivid memory of one day in Summer at my grandmother and grandfather’s home in Mont-Pres-Chambord, Loire Valley which is home to the famous Chateau – Chateau de Chambord. We would visit there every Summer and our aunties, uncles and cousins who lived nearby would join us for meals and days out.
My grandmother would cook beautiful meals and grandfather would take us on bike-rides around the Countryside. Their house was beautiful with tiled floors, wallpaper on the doors, a spiral wooden staircase in the hallway, French doors throughout, leading from the kitchen into the living area on one side, and to the front garden on the other, and French doors leading from the living area into the back garden and patio where we would sit an eat our meals.
The garden was beautiful, so much colour from the flowers and shrubs, and the side of the house was filled with ivy which buzzed with the sound of bees and there were butterflies of all kinds of colour fluttering around. At the back of the house was a bright sunflower field.
This one particular day was a hot day and my mum, brother and I decided to go for a bike ride. I borrowed my grandmother’s bike which was a lovely ladies French bike with a basket on the front. My mum borrowed her dad’s bike and my brother rode the sporty bike that they kept for when grandchildren visited.
We cycled around the quiet roads surrounded by forests and sunflower fields for a couple of hours and there were large ditches at the side of the road. I was behind my mum and as we were gazing into the forest trying to spot deer, my mum’s front wheel wobbled and she fell into the ditch! We rushed to help her out, but we all ended up laughing sat on the ground.
We went back to our grandparents, mum nursing her sore leg, and as we approached the gate to their house, a wonderful aroma hit us. It was Mediterranean herbs – rosemary, thyme, oregano and fresh tomatoes. Just the smell alone was mouthwatering.
My grandmother had made a Ratatouille. This is a traditional Provencal vegetable stew packed with tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, peppers and onions and the way my grandmother made it was just perfect. She would make a huge dish of this and the whole family including extended family sat around the table on the patio in the sun eating this along with sausages, salad, fresh fruit and cheese and crusty bread and sipping good French wine.
I have tried many types of Ratatouille through the years, there are many different versions and you can use different vegetables – none were as good as my grandmother’s version though.
Below is a recipe for my take on a traditional Ratatouille. I have based this on the flavours from my grandmother’s Ratatouille and made a few changes based on some other recipes I have tried – let’s face it, I will never be able to replace my grandmother’s recipe!
I substituted the aubergine for shallots as I am the only person in my house who likes aubergine. If you do wish to use aubergine, I recommend salting the aubergine about an hour before adding to the dish to extract any excess water.
Some Ratatouille dishes that I have tried contain sprinkled Emmental cheese which my grandmother didn’t use but my family love this, so I have used dairy free cheese (Daiya Cheese) and I used a little liquid smoke for a smokey flavour. The trick is to slow cook the vegetables to get the juicy flavours flowing.
I hope you enjoy!
- 3 courgettes cut into chunks
- 1 red bell pepper cut into chunks
- 2 medium red onions cut into chunks
- 6 shallots peeled
- 2 vine-ripened tomatoes cut into chunks
- fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 50ml vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp dried rosemary
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp tarragon
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp liquid smoke (optional for smokey taste)
- grated vegan cheese – as much as you like to grate over ratatouille
- Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees.
- Place all the vegetables into a baking dish and put aside.
- Heat the oil in a pan.
- Add the garlic and stirfry over a medium heat for 1 minute.
- Add the stock, tomatoes, herbs and liquid smoke (if using).
- Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Pour the sauce over the vegetables and stir.
- Cover with foil and place in the oven – bake for 50 minutes untilt he vegetables and soft.
- Remove from the oven and sprinkle with cheese.
- Place under a grill and grill for 3 minutes until cheese has melted and the top has charred a little (be careful not to burn).
- Serve as a side dish (I like it with shroomdogs) or as a main.
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