I am off to Liguria next week, to discover the best locales for our new Liguria and Cinque Terre walking tour. As I prepare for each tour, I research extensively the local cuisine. This dish is a prime example of the French influence in the cuisine of Liguria, due to their shared border as the French Riviera becomes the Italian Riviera.
It is not clear who first created rattatuia, or ratatouille, as you would call it in Provence. Most attribute it to the French, as the name comes from the French verb touiller, meaning to “stir up”. But ratatouillelike dishes exist just about everywhere you go in the Mediterranean, from Spain to Greece to Turkey. Most are traditionally eggplant based; more modern versions that include peppers and tomatoes emerged only after the sixteenth century when a Ligurian sailor named Christopher Columbus traveled to the New World and brought these back with him.
The Ligurian version, rattatuia, reflects the region love of vegetables. The several Ligurian recipes I researched for this all were less eggplant-rich and focused more on beans and green vegetables – green bean, zucchini, and borlotti beans, which are usually not found in the French version. Olives and pine nuts are another Ligurian variation, seen also in the Sicilian version, caponata. And of course basil is the herb of choice to flavor your rattatuia in Genoa.
For an excellent ratatouille, the French cooking reference Larousse Gastronomique recommends “the different vegetables should be cooked separately, then combined and cooked slowly together until they attain a smooth, creamy consistency”, so that “each will taste truly of itself.” This dish is definitely one that improves the next day, alowing the flavors to meld, and the juices to reabsorb, resulting in a thicker consistency. It is a wonderful vegetable side dish and makes a great bruschetta on some lovely bread. In Liguria rattatuia is also used as a sauce, to accompany gnocchi, pasta or fish.
When in Liguria, enjoy with a glass of Pigato (white) or Rossese (red).
13 ounces fresh borlotti beans, or 1 15 ounce can white beans, rinsed
5 ounces green beans, trimmed and chopped into 1” pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
1 small celery stalk, diced
1 eggplant, diced into 1/2” cubes
1 red pepper, diced into 1/2” cubes
1 yello pepper, diced into 1/2” cubes
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced, or 1 15 ounce can chopped tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 zucchini, diced
1/4 cup basil leaves
Optional: great olives (pitted and halved), pine nuts
If using fresh borlotti beans, cook the beans in salted boiling water until soft but still al dente, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Blanch the green beans in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and plunge into ice water. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy duty saute pan over low heat. Add the onion and saute for 3 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, borlotti beans, green beans, carrots, celery, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the zucchini and basil, and optional olives, mix well, and cook another 30 minutes.
Add the optional pine nuts, and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve hot, or it is even better the next day.