I clearly remember the first time I had ratatouille. It was in France, at Nico’s parents. His dad had prepared this wonderful vegetable stew called ratatouille. At the time, the only thing I knew about it was pretty much limited to the movie. But I soon found out how great it is. When it’s cooked well, this humble dish really captures the essence of each vegetable that’s in it. I had to know how to make it. There are probably many ways but the one I had that day was so delicious. Nico’s dad is no amateur either, he once owned a restaurant, trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and occasionally caters for some good people.
There are many things you could eat with ratatouille. It’s great with roast chicken or pork but also fish. This time, I pan-fried some tilapia fillets. It’s perfect if you have little time. Prepare the ratatouille in advance and heat it up while you’re cooking your fillets. You’ll have a great dinner ready in under 15 minutes.
I think the key point in this recipe is to cook all the vegetables separately. First of all, there is A LOT of them so it’s more convenient. But you also control the cooking time for each of them. The goal is not to completely cook the veggies but to make them sweat and lightly color them. Once this is done, you’ve done most of the work, the veggies are added to a pot to slow cook in the oven. The result is vegetables with great flavors that melt in your mouth.
Nico’s wine pairing: A red fruity and tannic wine would be a good match for the ratatouille. Think Côtes du Rhône. If you’re filling adventurous (like me), try a white wine from the Provence region like Bandol.
Pan-fried Tilapia & Ratatouille
- 4 tilapia fillets
- 1 large eggplant
- 3 bell peppers (green, red, orange)
- 2 medium zucchinis
- 1 large onion
- 1 can tomato paste (about 3/4 cup)
- 4 medium tomatoes, quartered and seeded
- 5 garlic cloves, 1 minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bunch thyme
- 1 bunch basil
- salt & black pepper
- olive oil
- 1 tbsp water
- Preheat oven to 325F. Season tomatoes with salt, pepper, olive oil, 2 sprigs of thyme and 4 cloves of garlic (skin on) in a baking dish. Bake for about 1 hour until beginning to brown.
- Prep each vegetable separately. Dice eggplant, bell peppers (1 inch) and onion (1/2 inch). Quarter zucchinis lengthwise, discard seeds and dice (1 inch). Heat a large pan over high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil then cook onions and minced garlic until soft. Set aside in an oven-safe large pot. Cook remaining vegetable separately, adding a small pinch of salt and olive oil for each batch, until lightly golden (about 1-2 minutes). Transfer vegetables to the pot.
- Preheat oven to 380F. Mix tomato paste with water. Add to the pot with roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, bay leaves, thyme, basil, 1 tsp salt and a pinch of pepper. Stir and bake with lid on for 1 hour. Adjust seasoning if needed.
- Pat-dry tilapia fillets. Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Pan-fry on medium-high heat with 1 tbsp olive oil for about 2-3 minutes on each side.