This was my attempt at Samfaina, a Catalan version of ratatouille, inspired by Martha Rose Shulman’s recent NYT piece on the many varieties of this Mediterranean melding of aubergine/eggplant, onion, garlic, tomato, olive oil, courgette/zucchini, various herbs and other variations depending on the region. I am a huge ratatouille freak. Something about its simplicity, richness and silkiness just works, plus its cheerful accommodating character means it goes with pretty much anything. Having been a fan of Clothilde’s Oven-Baked Ratatouille from the C&Z cookbook for a while, the NYT piece inspired me to branch out to what Shulman describes as a ‘vegetable marmalade.’
It was a simple process to prepare, especially if you have a sous-chef who’s handy with a knife, and you have a good heavy-based pan with a lid or a Dutch oven – something heavy and rustic that’s happy to sit on the stovetop for a few hours without much attention. I doubled the NYT’s quantities and made a few other changes, principally the unintended one of a shorter cooking time, because, well, we were hungry. But the longer you take to prepare this, the better. And make sure you have enough for leftovers.
Chop two medium eggplants into small chunks and lay out on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and leave to one side.
Assemble the other vegetables: slice two or three bell peppers, red or green, into thin strips; peel and dice two medium zucchini.
Heat 2tbsp olive oil in the aforementioned heavy pan. Add three finely chopped red onions and cook them slowly until they are soft and translucent. Add 8-10 cloves garlic, minced and allow to brown lightly.
Pat the eggplant dry and add to the pan with another good slug of olive oil, then add the peppers and zucchini. Season well, and sprinkle over 1tbsp Herbes de Provence. That part probably de-Catalanizes the dish, but the flavor makes up for the lack of authenticity. The herbs aren’t essential, but if you have some Herbes de Provence or some dried thyme, rosemary, oregano etc lying around, they add a depth and fragrance to the dish, which is going to cook for so long that they won’t be at the forefront of the flavor anyway.
Stir everything together and turn the heat down low. Cover, and cook for at least an hour, stirring occasionally.
Uncover the pan and add 1 28oz can plum tomatoes, roughly chopped. Season again and stir well, then cover again and leave for as long as you can – two to three hours, then another hour to stand, is ideal, but long enough for everything to meld together.
Serving – well, what do you like? We ate this over a mixture of rice and quinoa, which soaked it up beautifully, but you could also use it as a sauce for chicken or pasta, or over a baked potato. So there you have it – Catalan Ratatouille, or Catalouille.