France beckons and I cannot wait. It is a country that I love and it has been far too long since I visited. What excites me the most is that we are hitting the south west, a region I have never been to before. And I gather that it is arguably the best region for produce. So you can guess what I will be doing whilst I'm there.
As a dedication to the more simple and rustic French cuisine that I prefer, tonight we knocked up that classic combination of fresh vegetables, ratatouille. Ratatouille has become my daughter's favourite meal. I'm not 100% sure why but I'm guessing that it might have something to do with a recently animated rat. Either way, it doesn't matter as this dish is so simple to make, packed with flavour and incredibly good for you.
In a little twist to the usual vegetables in a tomato sauce, I added a few handfuls of fresh and plump Northumbrian mussels, and a good dose of lemon balm rather than basil. Lemon balm is a herb that is rarely used in modern day cookery. But with its surprising citrus fragrance and earthy taste, it is a natural herb to accompany shellfish. It is brilliant in a lemon ice cream. And a few thrown into a teapot with hot water and a little honey makes a delicious tea. And with that, au revoir mes amis, je serai arrière bientôt!
Ratatouille with Mussels and Lemon Balm
1 aubergine, cut into small chunks
2 courgettes, halved and sliced into chunks
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced into chunks
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tins of plum tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
4 handfuls of live mussels, cleaned
A handful of lemon balm or basil leaves, finely sliced
1 - Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the aubergine and cook, tossing regularly, until beginning to turn golden. Remove and set aside.
2 - Heat up the remaining tbsp olive oil and add the peppers and courgette. Cook, tossing regularly until beginning to soften and turn golden. Remove and set aside.
3 - Heat up the olive oil in a separate pan and add the onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes then tip in the tomatoes. Bring to the boil, stir in the vinegar and cook for 10 minutes until beginning to reduce and deepen in colour.
4 - Tap any open mussels onto a hard surface. If they do not close, throw away. Put the mussels into the tomato sauce, put on the lid and cook for 5 minutes. If the mussels have not opened properly, throw away.
5 - Stir in the vegetables and heat through. Taste for seasoning. Sprinkle on the lemon balm and serve with rice or crusty bread.