Oven Ratatouille

Towards the end of my pregnancy with Zach I gave up work and immersed myself in Michel Guerard`s seminal gourmet dieting book Cuisine Minceur. To use the book successfully it is essential to surrender to the regime. One dish that really appealed to me was ratatouille with eggs poached in red wine. Intrigued by his pernickety approach to making ratatouille, I decided to give it a go. Instead of simmering all the chopped vegetables in olive oil, M Guerard initially fries each one separately and briefly in a little olive oil before mixing everything together in an oven dish and baking the ratatouille in the oven. The result is perfection every time, the vegetables keeping their shape and identity yet merging together almost like a vegetable terrine. There is none of the usually waterY slop that so often spoils this dish, and when left overnight for the flavours to develop, it is extraordinarily good. In fact, I think I prefer ratatouille cold. Quantities can be scaled up or down for smaller or larger rats; you will not regret making too much.

Serves 6
Prep: 45 min
Cook: 60 min

1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
1 large red pepper
1 medium aubergine
3 medium courgettes
8 ripe tomatoes
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
12 basil leaves, torn

1 level tsp crushed coriander seeds Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Quarter, peel and thinly slice the onion. Peel and very finely chop the garlic. Quarter the red pepper lengthways, scrape away the seeds and white filament and finely slice across the pieces. Quarter the aubergine lengthways and finely slice across the pieces. Trim, halve lengthways and finely slice the courgettes. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes, count to 30, drain and then peel the tomatoes and cut out the core in a pointed plug shape. Cut each tomato into 8 pieces and discard seeds. Heat half the olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the onions, adding the garlic after a couple of minutes. Add the red pepper and allow to wilt slightly. Remove both from the pan to a large and roomy mixing bowl. Meanwhile, place the aubergine in a bowl and sprinkle over half the remaining olive oil. Use your hands to smear the slices thoroughly. Add to the pan, fry quickly and briefly until coloured then transfer to the bowl along with the other vegetables. Using the last of the olive oil, repeat the smearing business with the courgettes and cook in the same way as the aubergines. Also add to the other vegetables. Finally, give the tomatoes a quick fry so that they collapse slightly, and add to the mixing bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper and using your hands, mix everything carefully together. Put the whole mixture into a shallow earthenware baking dish. Lay the bay leaf and thyme over the top and cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir in the basil and coriander seeds, cover once more, and allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving. Alternatively, cool and serve chilled. I often forget about the basil and coriander.