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Ratatouille: A Provence Classic

Provence is all about their locally grown produce. In Aix-en-Provence, there are daily farmers markets augmented by massive weekly markets in the city center. The whole plaza is transformed into a sea of vibrant color. Rows and rows of vegetables and oils, meats, cheese, honeys and nougats. If you’re not sure what to cook or how to cook a certain dish, just ask the vendor and they will give you step-by-step instructions and point you right to which vegetables you’ll need. Not only are these vegetables cheap and delicious, but they are all locally grown. Shopping at the daily marché not only saves you money, but it gives back to the Provençal community. It’s also a great place to practice French! The vendors are some of the friendliest people I’ve met in Aix and they are always willing to speak with you.
 Some ratatouille ingredients at the farmer's market

My absolute favorite thing to make from the vegetables I buy at the daily marché is the French classic, ratatouille.  Before coming to France, I thought that ratatouille was a Pixar film about a French rat, nothing more. In Provence, ratatouille means business. It is a staple of the south of France. Ratatouille is commonly referred to as “commoner food” because it was so simple and cheap to make that it became associated with the poor farmers of Provence. Ratatouille is a very simple, vegetarian dish that almost every Provençal resident has had at some point in their lives.

You can take my word as a poor college student who loves making cheap meals such as this, ratatouille is incredibly versatile. I’ve eaten ratatouille fresh, from a jar, with rice, with pasta, with a baguette, in a baguette, on a crepe, the possibilities are endless! When I’m bored with it, I like to add a mix of spices to change up the blend Provençal, I’ve made cayenne ratatouille, spicy paprika ratatouille, and even curry ratatouille.

 typical Tuesday night: making ratatouille with my friend Marine in her apartment


Les Ingrédients: (serves 3-4)

1 oignon (onion)

2 courgettes (zucchini)

1 aubergine (eggplant)

3 tomates (tomatoes)

1 poivron rouge (red pepper)

Huile d’olive (olive oil)

Sel et poivre (salt and pepper)

1)      Prep your veggies: dice the onion, peel the courgettes, slice the courgettes into rounds; dice the aubergine into 1” cubes, cut up the tomatoes, cut up the poivron rouge

2)      Sauté the onion with olive oil and salt and pepper

3)      Once the onions have begun to caramelize, throw in the courgettes and aubergine for a few minutes

4)      Add the tomates and poivron

5)      Cook the mixture on medium-low heat for 30 minutes (times will vary), cover if possible

6)      Ratatouille will be ready when the courgettes and aubergine have softened and the tomates have reduced to a saucy consistency

C’est fini! Bon appetit!

 the finished product is not always beautiful but it is delicious!

Ratatouille is my way of keeping a bit of my Provence home with me always. It’s such an easy recipe to make, I can bring it back to Boston and make it whenever I feel nostalgic about my corner of the South of France.

Bridget Stemmler is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a sophomore at Northeastern University.

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