Ratatouille: The stew That Made a Carnivore Stutter.
If you’ve ever sat with me and eaten or had a drink, you’ll know that I’m pretty set in my ways about a lot of things. Sure, I’m more than open to new experiences, especially if they’re coming to me on a plate, but there are one or two things I just refuse to talk about or really give a chance. As a rule, I hate craft beer. I think pulled pork is only as good as the West End would have you believe if you have it in a burrito, and I’m still not 100% sure what quinoa actually is (I know it’s a grain, but I’ve only ever seen it twice… I’ve seen more shooting stars than portions of quinoa.) Furthermore, there is one point that anybody who knows me can tell you I refuse to shift on; I love meat. I can confidently say that I will never, ever go vegan and up until recently I was pretty dubious about eating anything without animal produce in it (sue me.) This was until I tried Ratatouille, specifically my girlfriend’s Ratatouille.
“I had consumed food with no carnivorous component whatsoever, and absolutely loved it.”
Now, I’d had Ratatouille before when I was really young, when I was more concerned with whether or not Goku was really dead than gastronomy, so to say I’d forgotten to appreciate just how good it was is an understatement. The word “vegetarian” was also pretty alien to me back then. I’m from Ayrshire, my family is from Ayrshire, and Ayrshire is replete with farmland and borders the North Sea. As a result, my experience of food consisted predominantly of meat and fish. So when the blast from the past that is Ratatouille knocked once again at my culinary doorstep, I was dubious. A meal without meat or fish, I thought, was scarcely a meal at all. I ate it anyway, and, as I sat back in my chair to process the experience, I had a pretty similar moment that Anton Ego has in the Pixar film of the same name. I was transported back to the place I had been as a child, stopping only briefly to eat in a world of Primary School football, Pokemon Cards and the quiet Eden of my Mother’s Greenhouse. Then, the real realisation hit me. I had consumed food with no carnivorous component whatsoever, and absolutely loved it. Greater still was my astonishment when I went through the ingredients in my head, and was stunned to find that Ratatouille is in fact totally vegan. It’s also totally cheap, which as a student is an absolute godsend. You can get the ingredients for something in the range of a fiver, and it’ll make enough for about 3 or four servings, so if you want to freeze some up then you’re more than able.
I’m not writing an article for a student advice column though, I’m writing for an adventure blog. So where’s the adventure in some cheap stew? For me, it was in the realisation that followed. I was pushed a little further out of my comfort zone by some meat-free food than I have ever been on any rollercoaster or hike. I discovered that my perceptions were totally malleable, and that everything I thought I knew about food was founded on some pretty daft principles. Like Ego, I was surprised, and will return to the kitchen with a newly renewed passion for discovering new, surprising things about food. Now, I know I sound like I’m building up to something, but I’m not; I’ve still got no intention of going veggie or vegan, I’ve just had something I originally thought “un-thought,” which I realise sounds stupid, but that’s what happened. This is what adventure is about, I think- undergoing experience and having it change who you are (or who you think you are.) So, even though I know now that it would be all kinds of stupid to dismiss vegan or vegetarian food entirely, I really do feel the same way about eating meat. Adventurous cooking, for me, requires you to think outside the box, and I know Vegan cooking is seriously populated with new and exciting recipes and ingredients, but I don’t think the epicurean in me will ever let me cut down my options by way of abandoning meat. I love cooking, and love doesn’t hold back if it is true.
“I have seen some of the proverbial light, but not enough to make me squint so hard I’ll stop seeing the opportunities that meat and fish present as taste-components.”
Taking things down a sentimental notch, I should say that the recipe included in this article isn’t the only way of making ratatouille. The earliest method requires you to bake ingredients in the oven, which I can appreciate takes a long time. The version popularised in the film is actually quite a recent development in the world of cooking. It was first written about extensively in 1976 by a chef called Michael Guerard, before then being brought back into the public forum by an American called Thomas Keller in 1999 and then again in 2007 for the film. Lazier chefs (which in every aspect except my cooking I certainly am) have been known to simply sauté the ingredients together. I urge you not to do this, it really isn’t in keeping with the spirit of adventure, or indeed good cooking. This is how I get by at writing for an adventure rag; I think cooking well is a challenge in itself (particularly on a budget) and unadventurous people are pretty unlikely to rise to challenges. Just as an unadventurous eater would refuse to eat vegetarian or vegan food, purely on the grounds of enjoying meat. Now, I have seen some of the proverbial light, but not enough to make me squint so hard I’ll stop seeing the opportunities that meat and fish present as taste-components. I am an omnivore, and I’m proud.
Anyway, let’s get down to the main course; the stew that made a Carnivore stutter. The recipe I’m providing is the one my girlfriend used the day I questioned my eating habits. It serves two or three, so just multiply ingredients if you’ve got lots of diners! This recipe takes time; patience, passion and precision are key.
- 4 cloves of garlic
- A courgette
- 2 bell peppers, preferably red or yellow.
- 2 onions
- 2 or 3 large carrots (most people use aubergines, but the carrots give a bit more firmness to the texture. The method remains the same.)
- A tin of plum tomatoes
- 8 vine tomatoes
- Some herbs (Parsley, Oregano, think aromatic.)
- 1. Get slicing: get all of your veg sliced. You’ll also want to crush and chop your garlic, as the flavour will better permeate your food if you get the pieces nice and small.
- 2. Heat up some oil (about 2 tbsp,) in your big pot. Make sure it is a big pot. Seriously, the biggest one you’ve got. A medium-low heat is advised as you’re just softening veg in the preliminary stages.
- 3. Chuck in your carrots, courgette and peppers, and seal the pot. This prevents the veg from simply frying, as it seals in the moisture and half steams them (yeah, science!) You’ll need to do this for about 5 minutes, stirring once to ensure no burning occurs.
- 4. Remove your first lot of veg, and stick it in a bowl on the side to cool.
- 5. Now, add the Onions and Garlic. Soften these up for a further ten to fifteen minutes, keeping the lid on and stirring maybe twice.
- 6. Add the fresh tomatoes to the pan, followed by the pre-cooked veg and then the tinned tomatoes. If you have some to hand, a glug of balsamic vinegar does wonders at this stage. Salt and Pepper will also help here.
- 7. Now, the long half-hour begins. Stir your ingredients well, then stick a lid on the pan and let it simmer on a low heat for half an hour to thirty-five minutes.
It’s traditional to serve Ratatouille with bread or as an accompaniment to something else, but ultimately the choice is yours in terms of service. I like it with wholegrain pasta, but that’s just me. Subjectivity and experimentation are as always the name of the game. In any case, whether you like your burgers bovine or falafel-y, there is something for everyone in this recipe.