Throw the word “Ratatouille” (rat-a-too-ee) into a conversation these days and people tend to think of the 2007 Oscar winning, computer-animated movie produced by Pixar. In this movie, Remy the rat, dreams of becoming the best chef in Paris, and not to spoil the movie if you are among the few who have not seen it, the French dish, Ratatouille plays a significant role.
Ratatouille is not only beautiful to behold, it is a perfect dish for this time of year when Farmer’s Markets are still offering vegetables fresh from the gardens. And the good news is that Ratatouille tastes even better the next day – not that you are likely to have any left!
Ratatouille pairs well with Bordeaux. I picked up a Chateau Des Moines 2008 that added pepper and spice to the dish. It’s a mostly Merlot blend that’s aged in oak barrels for 12 months and works well with this relaxed meal.
Chateau Des Moines 2008
This dish is amazingly tasty. Even my young daughters with their less than sophisticated palates loved it. Although my 10 year-old qualified it by commenting, “It’s not as good as pizza or chicken – but it’s better than mushrooms!”
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 5.5 oz can tomato paste
Thyme, finely chopped, about 2-3 springs
Parsley, finely chopped, about 2 tablespoons
Basil, finely chopped, about 8 leaves
1 Bay leaf
Pinch of sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons butter, divided
½ onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 small yellow squash, sliced
1 small eggplant, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan, freshly grated
Four 5.5 oz empty tomato paste cans (if you choose the stacked option)
For the tomato sauce:
To peel the tomatoes, cut an x in the bottom of the tomato. Bring a pot of water to boil. Carefully lower the tomatoes into the boiling water and watch. It only takes about 30 seconds for the skin to start to peel off. With a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and place in a bowl of iced water. Peel the skin. Then cut in quarters and remove the seeds. Finally, chop the tomatoes into small pieces.
In a large saucepan, heat the pan and then add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the chopped tomatoes. Add the garlic, and cook until the tomatoes start to break down. Add the tomato paste, thyme, parsley, basil and bay leaf. Add a pinch of sugar and simmer for about 30 minutes or longer to develop the flavors and thicken the sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
For the vegetables:
While the tomato sauce is simmering, prepare the vegetables. With a sharp knife or a mandolin, slice the eggplant, zucchini, squash and red bell pepper into thin slices. Place the eggplant in a strainer over a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for about 30 minutes to remove some of the moisture.
Heat a large saucepan and then add about 1 tablespoon each of oil and butter. When the oil is hot, add the chopped onions. Cook over moderate heat until the onions are softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer the onions to a plate. Then, heat the pan and add another tablespoon of oil and butter. Cook the red bell pepper until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Next, cook the zucchini until al dente, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the yellow squash. Finally, dry the eggplant with a paper towel and cook in the same way as the zucchini and squash. Season each vegetable with salt and pepper.
For stacks, use the four rinsed 5.5 oz tomato paste cans. Preheat oven to 375°F. On a foil-lined baking sheet, place these four tomato paste cans.
Line the bottom of each with zucchini, followed by a teaspoon of tomato sauce. Then add a layer of yellow squash and another layer of tomato sauce. Then add the eggplant followed by another layer of tomato sauce. Finally sprinkle onions and red pepper and a dollop of grated Parmesan. Repeat until the can is full.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until mixture is bubbly and top is golden brown.
You can store the stacks in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 3 days. Remove from the can and heat on high in a microwave until bubbly. (They retain their shape in the microwave.)
(If you don’t want to make stacks, you can put the tomato sauce and vegetables into a large casserole container. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan. Bake until mixture is bubbly and top is brown, about 25-30 minutes.)
Serve with rice, pasta or crunchy French bread. Add cooked chicken for a heartier meal option or tangy goat cheese for variety. It’s delicious served hot, at room temperature and some even like it cold.
As a perpetual student in the kitchen, I’m always buying a new ingredient at the market, reading a cookbook, collecting food props for photography or browsing the kitchen gadget stores. After the encouragement of winning a recipe contest when I was 10 years old, I have been collecting recipes ever since. Now I write about my food experiences on my blog (whiskblog.com) as I work my way through a cooking school curriculum. I also enjoy the table-side of the kitchen as a restaurant reviewer for a local commuter newspaper, and I freelance as a food editor for a new magazine called Taste & Travel. Recently, I completed Basic Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa.