from one generation to the next
I owe a debt of pleasure to an unknown night shift cook from the time in the 1970s when I was a student nurse. It was only ever at midnight dinners that “Gypsy Stew” appeared on the menu in the staff cafeteria, an unctuous combinations of then unfamiliar vegetables, that I now know as ratatouille. It wasn’t particularly popular so usually the leftovers reappeared reinvented the next night with eggs baked into the surface.
I make ratatouille frequently and I serve the leftovers for lunch with a poached egg on top. Sometimes I add black olives, balsamic vinegar and finish with fresh basil leaves. Then I call it “Caponata.” Whichever way I make this dish, whether we eat it hot or cold, whether we have it beside polenta, or Gnocchi alla Romana, accompanying fennel spiced sausages, char grilled steak or fish, it is always delicious. It was never a favourite with our kids, but the grownups have always enjoyed it.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion diced
1 large eggplant or 8 finger eggplants, cut into 2cm cubes
1 large red capsicum or 3 sweet red chillis, cut into 2cm squares
500g ripe tomatoes roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, finelychopped
4 small zucchinis cut into 2cm slices
Salt pepper and sugar to taste
Dice the onion. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan that has a well fitting lid,( I use a cast iron Le Crueset casserole dish) then sauté the onion covered for about 10 minutes. Add the eggplant and peppers to the pan and cook over a low heat, covered for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. When the eggplant has browned and is almost cooked, add the tomatoes and garlic and cook until the tomatoes are just collapsed. Add the zucchini and cook for another couple of minutes. Remove from the heat, season to taste then serve.
Variation: for Caponata
12 black olives, pitted and quartered ( I choose kalamata olives)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup whole fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
Prepare as above, add the olives and vinegar when you add the tomatoes, then stir the basil leaves into the stew after you have removed it from the heat.