IMG_3947A classic dish of the south of France is ratatouille niçoise. It’s summer on a plate. It’s also a great dish for entertaining because it’s even better the second day, so it’s ideal to make ahead. Nice gets credit for its creation but it’s a dish common to all of Occitanie, the broad swath of southern France.

My friend Christine put it on the menu for our cooking class, along with grilled thyme lamb chops, which I’ll also include here.IMG_3891Remember, for a same-day dinner, we made the desserts first, starting with the crème catalan, then the baba au rhum. Once the baba was cooling, we tackled the ratatouille, or rata, as the French like to say. It’s very French to cut off words to two syllables: Coca-Cola becomes Coca (not Coke); McDonald’s is known as “MacDo”; spaghetti bolognaise is called “bolo”; Carcassonne is called “Carca”….

Even first names get shortened to two syllables (often one syllable repeated twice) to form a nickname: Laurence is Lolo; Louis is Loulou; Alphonse is Fonfon; Georges or Joseph becomes Jojo; Julien is Juju. Now that I think about it, all those are male names. Though I know a Brigitte who goes by Bibi. Female names often get -ou at the end: Michelle becomes Michou (sounds like mishoo); Giselle is Gisou. And there are another range of nicknames that also use the repeated two-syllable style: uncle (officially it’s oncle, but familiarly it’s tonton); I know a Tintin… But there are exceptions: a son (fils) may be affectionally referred to as fiston. Aunt (tante) becomes tatie. Grandmother (grand-mère) is more likely called mamie.IMG_3911Back to the rata.

Here’s what you need (easy to remember, it’s 3 of everything):

olive oil

3 onions, minced

3 small eggplants, (large) dice. Purple ones should be peeled; white ones have a thinner, milder skin that can be left on.

3 zucchini, peeled and diced

3 tomatoes, peeled (blanche first) and cut into large chunks

1 green pepper, diced

1 red pepper, diced

1 yellow pepper, diced

salt, pepper, thyme, and a bay leaf or two

Cover the bottom of a large, heavy pan with a coat of olive oil. Cook the onions over medium heat, stirring often, until they soften.

Add the eggplant, and continue to stir until it softens.IMG_3918Add the zucchini. Then the peppers. Then the tomato and spices.

Let it cook until everything has softened up. Don’t put on the lid or you will end up with a lot of juice.

Serve hot, cold or lukewarm.IMG_3912What I like about rata is that there are no mistakes (unless you really burn it or you overcook the vegetables into mush–one of the Carnivore’s sharpest insults for a mix of overcooked food is “ratatouille”) and lots of room for variation.

To reduce the juice, I like to cook everything quickly and separately over high heat, so the outsides of the zucchini and eggplants, especially, brown, but the vegetables aren’t too cooked. They get added in turn to a mixing bowl and then heated together before serving. Or not heated. I learned, while writing this, that cooking the vegetables separately is the method that the French bible of cuisine, Larousse Gastronomique, suggests, though it says to cook the mix about 20 minutes in the oven. Putting the dish in the oven is a good way to avoid scorching the bottom, but I’d rather just keep it stovetop and not heat up the kitchen.IMG_3915I rarely peel vegetables–out of laziness and also for the added nutrition. I also add plenty of garlic–three or four cloves. Sometimes I use herbes de provence, a mix of thyme, marjoram, rosemary, basil and savory, which we tend to put into almost everything. Other times, I use fresh herbs from the garden–thyme, rosemary, basil.  IMG_4312Rata is a good way to eat the rainbow. Consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables gives you different nutrients, since the colors are linked to different disease-fighting chemicals, called phytochemicals.

Another plus for ratatouille: leftovers are great, and you can even put it on pasta or rice for a vegetarian meal.

We served it with provençale tomatoes (recipe coming soon) and thyme lamb chops.IMG_4302For the lamb chops:

Cut off the egregious hunks of fat. They will just cause your grill to flame up.

Brush both sides with a little olive oil so the thyme sticks to the chops and so the chops don’t stick to the grill. Sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper on both sides.

Cook to taste on your grill. The Carnivore swears by wood charcoal, but we won’t get judgy if you use gas.

Bon appétit!IMG_4306

 

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24 thoughts on “Ratatouille Niçoise

  1. I know a Philippe who is Fifi to his friends, a Mireille who is Mimi, an Olivier who is Lolo and an Antoine who is Titou. It hadn’t dawned on me that Gislou is short for Ghislaine, but since I know a Gislou, I guess her full name is Ghislaine. I’ll have to ask her. I’d guessed Gislou was a nickname, but assumed it was unrelated to whatever her real name was. I also know a Jean-Christophe who is Jicé.

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    1. Thank you for correcting my spelling of Ghislaine. But I realize my Gisou is really Giselle. And Ghislaine is called Gigi.
      OTOH, I know a few Martines who go by Tine, in an exception to the two-syllable nickname rule.

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      1. There are a couple of ways of spelling Ghislaine, and of pronouncing it. Apparently you give away your social status by whether you pronounce the ‘s’ or not. I have 3 friends called Ghislaine (unabbreviated to any nickname) and all spell it like that, pronounce the ‘s’, and the ‘gh’ is ‘j’.

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    1. You might have to give him an unrelated nickname like Tintin. Tretre doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. Nor Vorvor. Maybe Vovo? Make sure it isn’t slang for something naughty.

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  2. Rat (and I’m afraid that IS what we call it in our house) is a favourite and I have my way of making it and he has his. Yours looks delicious and the other day I was instructed by a Parisien friend in the art of Julia Childs version. Who is right? All of us … that’s really the thing, I suspect with all the classic country dishes – make it to suit you and argue vehemently that yours is the right and true wearer of the crown! Those chops look pretty spiffy too may I say!

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  3. I can almost smell your dish here in Texas. Rata was, and always will be, a favorite dish around our house. What I love best about it is that it changes season to season. Every quarter, when new vegetables come into season, our Rata changes.

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  4. Bonjour ! I do not know your first name, but I wanted to congratulate you for your first-rate blog. Not only are you an excellent (and open-minded) observer of French life, but you are also a fine writer. As a French native and long-time blogger, I know these qualities are not always easy to find in online publications. 🙂 Merci, as well,for consistently providing thoughtful, well-written, and interesting stories and vignettes on French life outside Paris. It has been my pleasure savoring them first, then sharing them with the French Girl in Seattle Facebook community where they are always well received. I have neglected my blog recently due to a move and other personal shenanigans, bug you inspire me to return to the keyboard soon. A bientôt. Veronique

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