Ratatouille is a basic dish that any cook should have in their
repertoire. It can be a main dish for vegetarians, an appetiser served
with crusty bread, an accompaniment to a roast or served cold the next
day as part of a tapas lunch.
Just how fancy you get is up to you, so we have included several
Your basic rat consists of tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini assisted
by some onions, garlic, red or green capsicum, herbs and seasonings.
Start with a large saucepan and in some olive oil soften some chopped
onion, chopped capsicum and garlic.
What? You don t like garlic? Well go off and buy some McDonalds
and stop hanging around with the rest of us who like food.
When the onions are translucent, add chopped eggplant and zucchini
which have been washed but not peeled. What size to chop them? The
zucchini are easy just chop them into discs. The size of the eggplant
confronts you with your first major decision as chef in this dish. Here
at White Hat we prefer our rat to be manageable with a fork without the
assistance of a knife. Hence we cut our eggplant to fork-sized pieces.
However we usually leave a few less amenable large pieces so that those
of our friends who try to deny they have any peasant blood in their
veins are left with some sauce dribbling down their chin.
The heat should still be low and a lid placed on the saucepan so that
the eggplant and zucchini slowly stew and release their liquids rather
than frying. Now is the time to add some salt and freshly ground pepper.
What! You haven’t got a pepper grinder? You’ve got a mobile phone
haven’t you? That costs far more than a pepper grinder but probably adds
less to your quality of life. Go away and use your mobile phone to dial
a pizza and come back and talk to the rest of us once you ve got your
priorities sorted out.
OK. The eggplant and zucchini have softened. It s now time to add the
tomatoes. If you have fresh tomatoes, chop them roughly and throw them
in. If you haven t got fresh ones there is no need to feel embarrassed
about using canned ones. Those in a tin have usually been picked at
their peak and can often be better than the out-of-season fresh ones
you will find in the supermarket. When using canned tomatoes for rat my
preference is for whole peeled tomatoes which I drain to discard the
often sugar and salt laden juices then chop the remaining tomatoes
roughly and throw into the saucepan.
At this point you can turn the heat up to medium to help reduce the
liquid from the tomatoes. This is also a good time to add some fresh
herbs such as thyme, marjoram or oregano.
What! You ve got dried
herbs and haven t got any fresh ones? You can buy them at your local
market, grow them in a pot on your windowsill, or collect some from the
elderly Greek lady who lives down the street who speaks no English but
for whom a smile and a yassou is more than ample payment. If you
haven t got any fresh herbs then go away and figure out how to get some
and stop bothering the rest of us.
Now, where were we? That s right; we had just added the herbs.
Somehow there seems to be only you and me left now. I don t know what s
happened to the rest of them. Let the rat bubble gently for about 30 to
40 minutes then check for consistency and taste. If it is too liquid,
ladle out the excess juices into a smaller saucepan, boil for a few
minutes to reduce them down then add them back to the main saucepan. If
the tomato flavour is rather weak you can beef it up (or to be precise,
tomato it up) with some tomato paste or passata. Be wary of adding
commercial pasta sauces because they may mask the taste of your fresh
veggies. Finally throw in some chopped parsley and it is time to serve.
Serve it as a side dish with a main course or by itself with toasted
crusty bread. A good rat should have the eggplant and zucchini starting
to disintegrate but with still enough body so that their individual
tastes can be recognised. If they re all mushed in together it s not a
rat it s a vegetable stew. A vegetable stew is still good, but not as
satisfying as a rat. Rat tastes best when eaten in the summer twilight
in the back yard where you grew the ingredients and where you can taunt
the possums because you got to the tomatoes before they did.
The basic rat is what you cook for yourself or the family. However,
if you are having guests you may need to upgrade to the White Hat Flash
Rat. This doesn t involve a great deal more. Firstly, if you are using
fresh tomatoes it would be a good idea to peel them, otherwise people
will find odd bits of skin floating in their dish. They’re perfectly
nourishing but not always considered appropriate in polite society. To
peel tomatoes, drop them in boiling water for about a minute cool them
under cold running water and the skin will usually then come off easily.
If you want to get fancier, you can cut them in half and squeeze out the
pips. However that does eliminate one of life s great pleasures - the
possibility of finding one or two tomato pips stuck between your teeth
which allow you to relive the flavour of the meal you had half an hour
If you are familiar with your ingredients and know that tomato paste
will be needed then add it to the saucepan after you have softened the
onions and allow a minute or two for it to fry down. This helps remove
the bitter raw taste often associated with tomato paste.
You might also decide to add another member of the squash family such
as little yellow squash. The bad news about vegetables such as zucchini
and squash is they have little in the way of nourishment compared with
most other foods. They are only there for ballast and flavour (in the
case of zucchini) or colour (in the case of squash). One or two bay
leaves added at this stage can also add another dimension to the final
We would also recommend that you use some fresh basil if you have
some available. If in doubt as to when to add it, remember White Hat
Cooking Tip No.12 - If in doubt as to whether an ingredient
should be added at the beginning or at the end, then add some at both
the beginning and at the end. That way you have a 100% chance of being
half right rather than a 50% chance of being completely wrong.
At the end of cooking and just before serving is the time to stir in
your secret ingredient. According to your tastes, experiment with
Balsamic Vinegar, Spanish sherry vinegar, Tabasco or even Angostura
Served on a fancy platter with some additional sprigs of basil or
parsley on the top and there you have The White Hat Flash Rat.
Now here at White Hat we are from the
throw-everything-in-the-pot-the-more-the-merrier tradition of fine
cuisine. It therefore takes some discipline on our part to cook a rat.
Because, no matter how fancy, a rat should still be a celebration of its
three or four basic vegetables.
For the White Hat Flash as a Rat with a Gold Tooth Rat start by
slicing some or all of your zucchini and eggplant and roasting them in a
slow oven for about half an hour. Also roast a whole red capsicum and
tomatoes (if you are using fresh ones). The roasting helps concentrate
the flavours. Cool the roasted tomatoes and capsicum under cold water
and peel them. Chop the capsicum, discarding the stalk, ribs and seeds
but retaining the juices that have developed in the cavity. Proceed as
for the Flash Rat adding your roasted vegetables when you would normally
add you fresh ones. You might also like to throw in a few green or pink
peppercorns for an added highlight, or even one or two finely chopped
chillies but not too much of any these extras.
Because you have driven a fair amount of water out of the vegetables
during the roasting you may find you need to add some vegetable or
chicken stock during the cooking to keep everything moist.
Just before serving, grate on some lemon rind and drizzle on some
extra virgin olive oil. Serve by candlelight in an even fancier bowl
than you would use for the Flash Rat, place Parmesan Cheese in a grater
on the table for people to add according to their taste and there you
have The White Hat Flash as a Rat with a Gold Tooth Rat.
Rat keeps well in the fridge for several days and can be eaten cold.
Cold doesn’t mean straight out of the fridge - allow it to come to room
temperature. It can be used as part of a picnic, an accompaniment at a
barbecue, as part of tapas, or on sandwiches particularly as a topping
for meat. If you don t think you ll use it cold in the next couple of
days, put it in the freezer and use it to add some body to your next
casserole or hotpot. Add it towards the end of the cooking because it
only needs to be heated through.