Monday, April 26, 2010


Did anybody (or did everybody) see that Pixar movie, Ratatouille? It was surprisingly entertaining, especially if you are the sort of person who would read a food blog. Without trying to give away the ending, let it suffice to say that at some point in the movie, they make ratatouille. And their recipe looks really delicious, to the extent that computer animated food can look delicious. But I've made a few different ratatouille recipes in the last few years, and while they all look about as colorful and well-presented as the dish in the movie, they also end up tasting... well... a bit bland.

It is really unfortunate, because whenever I've served ratatouille, my guests tend to be really impressed with how beautiful the dish is, but then I notice that there is plenty left over once dinner is over. I suspected that there is more to this classic dish than just carefully overlapping colorful vegetables.

The thing that sparked my determination to try it again was a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, where Bourdain goes to Provence, France. He attempts to treat his Proven├žal hosts to his own take on the local cuisine and one course that he serves is "ratatouille."

Now, quotation marks might be appropriate there because when the hosts come to the dinner, they tell Bourdain that he has made a very nice dish of vegetables, but that it is NOT ratatouille. So what is ratatouille? I have no idea really. The people of Provence surely reserve the right to discredit any American attempt. But there is someone that I trust who has graciously provided us with a fantastic ratatouille recipe that, if not authentically ratatouille, is at least not bland.

In fact, if this isn't ratatouille, then I don't really care because Julia Child's ratatouille is amazing! No, it's not a carefully presented stack of colorful veggies. It is more like a stir-fry really. And it is damn good.

Just in case a fantastic vegetable recipe isn't sufficient to keep your attention, I also made garlic aioli, another Proven├žal specialty that is basically garlic-bomb mayonnaise. If you think of garlic less as a seasoning and more as a food, then you're going to love this stuff. I ended up spreading some of it on my ratatouille, because the only thing better than enjoying your vegetables is enjoying your vegetables with some emulsified olive oil on them.

So, without further delay, I present my adaptation of Julia's ratatouille:

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

1 large eggplant
1 zucchini
2 tomatoes
2 green bell peppers
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves of mashed garlic
3 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp olive oil

Peel the eggplant and cut it into pieces approximately the size and shape of steak fries. Slice the zucchini the same way. Toss the eggplant with salt and let stand for 30 minutes.

Saute the eggplant in olive oil for a minute on each side in order to brown lightly. Then remove the eggplant from the pan and put it in a dish off to the side. Saute the zucchini in the same manner as the eggplant. Remove the zucchini to the same side dish as the eggplant.

Slice the onion very thin, and slice the green pepper about a 1/2 inch thick. Cook the onion and pepper together in the pan with olive oil for about 10 minutes, until tender but not brown. Stir in the garlic towards the 8th or 9th minute.

Remove the inner seeds from the tomato so you just have the outer pulp. Slice the tomato pulps into 3/8 inch strips and lay them over the onions and peppers. Cover the pan and cook on low for 5-8 minutes until the tomatoes have begun to render their juice. Baste the tomatoes with the juices, using a baster or a spoon. Salt and pepper to taste.

Layer the tomato/onion/pepper mixture between layers of the eggplant zucchini mixture, starting and finishing with the tomato mixture in a casserole dish. Sprinkle minced parsley atop the tomato mixture.

Cover the casserole and bake for about 15 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 20 minutes. Baste occassionally. Julia's recipe actually calls for cooking the casserole on a stove, but because of the dish that I used, I ended up using the oven and it worked just fine. I think you can make due either way. You'll know its done when most of the juices have evaporate and become pure flavor in your veggies. Be sure to say something in French when serving.

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