Nothing says August to me like Ratatouille. A jumble of vegetables all at their peak in one dish. It's like Canada - a colourful melange of flavours, each ingredient still retaining their own personalities. Not sure if the French would agree, but that's how I like to think of it.
Ratatouille is a traditional vegetable dish of southern France. Using so many colourful vegetables, olive oil, bright tender herbs and garlic, this is a dish that easily conjures up the markets and landscape of that part of the world. My mind about this often dish was opened wide a couple of years ago when I was served it by gentile, Ann-Marie of Chateau Juvenal in Provence . The restored 19th century chateau setting, cicadas chirping in the night and of course the company all helped that Ratatouille taste better. After all a dish should taste better in the land it was born. But I knew there was more to it than that. After that glorious dish I came home with a new appreciation of this often mediocre side dish and a desire to recreate it at home.
At this time of year tables are bursting at the farmers markets with more fruits and vegetables than I can keep up with- everything in season at once. I load up on these late summer beauties making double batches as often as I can, freezing some for dull November days.
Ratatouille is the ultimate make ahead dish. Its flavour and texture becomes infinitely better after a night's rest in the fridge. I'm fairly opinionated about that fact. And the versatility of Ratatouille is what makes it a great leftover dish. Straight up it's a wonderful side dish completing almost any meal from a roast chicken or grilled salmon, to a bowl of white beans. It can be mixed into pasta with a little olive oil, piled into a pastry case and topped with cheese for an impressive tart or used as an edible dish in which to bake eggs, my personal favourite. There are so many ways to use it, although that's if you have enough leftovers. I sneak spoonfuls straight from the fridge a couple days later. It's better cold or at room temperature.
I've had my share of Ratatouille made from recipes that call for cooking all vegetables in succession, with a finally simmering. This produces a watery, overcooked, pale comparison of what it should and can be. If you loath Ratatouille, this is probably the version you've been exposed to. The secret to a great ratatouille, other than the obvious one of using great vegetables, is by cooking each vegetable separately and cooking just until tender. No final simmering is necessary, in fact its detrimental. A glaze made from the vegetable juices and a rest in the fridge will do all the marrying of flavours you need.