Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Summer garden, autumn hotpot (Καλοκαιρινός κήπος, φθινοπωρινό τσικάλι)

Our summer garden is supposed to be coming to an end, but it doesn't seem to be turning out that way. The aubergine plants never seem to stop producing - I have a large supermarket carrier bag full of them, apart from the bag I gave to my aunt in Athens and another one to the cleaning lady who helped me spruce up my home after the dust bomb it had become over the summer. Aubergines have always been my favorite summer vegetable. In my opinion, they have a sweet taste when cooked in olive oil, and I eat them in the same way that I eat meat. When they are cut in thick slices, they are no less hefty than a grilled steak, but so much better for you. No matter how much olive oil you cook them in, it could never feel as stodgy as animal fat.

autumn garden
(part of our autumn garden - the pepper and eggplant trees should keep producing until Christmas, while the cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage have just started)

The garden is mainly producing aubergine at the moment, apart from the nettles, which are starting to come in handy for pie-fillings. Then there are the red Florinis pepper, the green bell peppers, the zucchini (probably the very last ones for the season), and the few surviving tomato plants. All these vegetables can be combined into one hotpot, baked either in the oven or in a pot on the stove.


This dish is cooked all over Europe under different names: ratatouille (France), briam (Greece), also called tourlou tourlou (Cyprus, Turkey), pisto (Spain), tiella (Italy). I use exactly the same combination of vegetables to make pasta sauce (with the addition of mince), vegetarian lasagne, and moussaka (with the addition of mince and potatoes). The recipe for each individual dish differs only slightly, mainly in terms of preference of cooking style and the herbs and spices added to it. The general idea is the same.

The recipe I chose to make is based on the French ratatouille. We recently saw the DVD with the same name, which inspired me to make it. I was impressed with the topic chosen for a children's film, and the children fell in love with Remy, the ratty chef. Remy's haute cuisine version of ratatouille was reviewed by Ego, a gastronome, who felt it compared equally to his mother's peasant cooking in a French village - the freshest ingredients, cooked ot perfection. Remy sheds some light on the difference between cooking for the family and being a chef; I'm definitely in the former category.

You need:
1 cup of olive oil (aubergine soaks up a lot of oil, hence the large quantity needed)
2 large aubergines, cut into small cubes
1 large courgette, thinly sliced (in half moons if it is very large)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1-2 red peppers, cut into slivers
1-2 green peppers, cut into slivers
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, cut into small cubes
1 large tomato, pureed
salt, pepper, oregano
chopped parsley to garnish


Add half the oil into a pot and brown the aubergines in it. Take care that the eggplant does not stick onto the pan, as it will soak up the oil very fast. Add more oil if necessary. When the aubergine is all coated in the oil and has taken on a darker colour, add the remaining vegetables. Mix them well in the pot, until everything is coated in oil. Then add the tomatoes and seasoning. Place a lid on the pot and leave the ratatouille to simmer on the lowest heat for about an hour. Don't mix it too much, because the vegetables will break up. They are more attractive and less soupy when they are intact.


Serve the ratatouille warm with (or without) some roast meat. My personal favorite is to accompany it with some good cheese. It can also be slow-cooked in the oven in a sealed tin instead of a pot. It is delicious at room temperature, and even better when served the day after it was cooked. If you've overcooked it or stirred it too much (so that it looks like a sauce instead of a stew), boil up some spaghettini, drain it well, and serve this over it. Don't forget the cheese!

ratatouille pasta

This is my entry for Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging, appropriately hosted on its third anniversary by her very self.

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