Ratatouille, a traditional Provençal vegetable stew, is a wonderfully versatile dish; it tastes as good hot or cold, and it can be eaten on its own or as an accompanying vegetable to meat, chicken and fish dishes. It is important to cook ratatouille gently so any wateriness evaporates and the vegetables become soft, sweet and mellow. Use only the best-quality ingredients, and really ripe tomatoes (the plum variety if available). Proportions and ingredients can be varied. It looks prettiest if you use different-coloured peppers.

Prepare 1 large unpeeled aubergine by cutting across in thick slices and then in half, sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander for 30 minutes. Wash and drain thoroughly. You will also need 5–6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2–3 sliced onions, 2-3 peppers, cut into strips, 500 g (1 lb) skinned and chopped ripe tomatoes, 250 g (8 oz) sliced courgettes, 4 large cloves chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons caster sugar, 1 handful roughly chopped flat-leaved parsley and salt and black pepper.

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large flameproof casserole over a medium heat. Add the onion slices and cook, stirring occasionally. When the onions have softened, after about 20 minutes, stir in the pieces of aubergine and pepper strips. Reduce the heat, cover the casserole and cook gently for 15 minutes.

  2. Add the tomatoes, courgettes, garlic, lemon juice and sugar. Cook, uncovered, over a low heat, stirring often, for 35-45 minutes until the tomatoes are a thick, mushy sauce and the vegetables very soft but still retaining their shape. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper and stir in the chopped parsley. Serve at once.