Ratatouille is a funny thing. First, yes, I love that movie too. It is cute and probably inspired lots of young kiddies to be chefs when thet grow up.
Next, ratatouille is ALWAYS whipped up on cooking competitions and shows. I have always wondered what the big deal was. After reading recipes and listening to people talk about ratatouille, it left me thinking "cooked vegetables with no particular flavoring...that sounds...boring." Why are Top Chefs making it? Why are Iron Chefs making it? Why does it even exist, let alone have a fancy French name?
Well, I was consumed with these thoughts and doubts all the way up until the end of making this Ratatouille. I kept tasting it and not being that impressed. I am also bothered by annoying, OCD recipe instructions that don't seem to have an rationale behind them. I feel like Julia is a bit of a jokester. She wrote this cook book to see how many Americans she could get to follow her painfully long and drown out recipes. I wouldn't be surprised if I was reading her recipe and it said, "take the chicken out the fridge for 3 minutes. Now put it back in. Turn of the power in the house. Do three push ups. Ok, now you are ready to cook the bird."
I don't mean to be disrespectful. Because Julia is my girl. I have always loved her. But her recipes make me want to jump out the window.
Anyways, back to my ratatouille. Aside from cleaning the pot, the skillet, the dutch oven, the strainer, the colander, the million utensils..., I actually really liked the final product.
Let me tell you what ratatouille really is. It is a bunch of late summer vegetables that are stewed in fresh tomato meat. Julia's recipe has you fry each piece of vegetable on its own to get a nice brown outside (probably a good idea, but roasting it would have been easier). She also does this funky layering in a "casserole" (it stays on the stove, Wikipedia, you are wrong). The layering is crazy talk. Especially since it actually says to taste and season after the layering happens. Once you re-season...you would have to mix it up. And I had to add lots and lots of salt to all these veggies.
What I am trying to say is: use this recipe as a general guide. Or use Anne's, she seems to have simplified it a bit. Ratatouille is a beautiful dish. You know how good veggies taste in your favorite vegetable stew or soup? That is the same general idea. Except, in ratatouille, they are not nearly as soft. We ate this with some fish. Traditionally it is often served with some beef or pork. I just wanted something quicker. Veggies go with anything.
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
1 pound eggplant
1 pound zucchini
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil, more if needed
1/2 pound (about 1 1/2 cups) thinly sliced yellow onions
2 (about 1 cup) sliced green bell peppers
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, if necessary
2 cloves mashed garlic
1 pound firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded & juiced (makes 1 1/2 cups pulp)
3 tablespoons minced parsley
Salt and pepper
Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices 3/8 inch thick, about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. Scrub the zucchini, slice off the two ends and cut the zucchini into slices about the same size as the eggplant slices. Place the vegetables in a bowl and toss with the salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain. Dry each slice in a towel.
One layer at a time, sauté the eggplant and then the zucchini in hot olive oil in the skillet for about a minute on each side to brown very lightly. Remove to a side dish.
In the same skillet, cook the onions and peppers slowly in olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and season to taste. Slice the tomato pulp into 3/8-inch strips. Lay them over the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until tomatoes have begun to render their juice. Uncover, baste the tomatoes with the juices, raise heat and boil for several minutes, until juice has almost entirely evaporated.
Place a third of the tomato mixture in the bottom of the casserole and sprinkle over it 1 tablespoon of the parsley. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then half the remaining tomatoes and parsley. Put in the rest of the eggplant and zucchini and finish with the remaining tomatoes and parsley.
Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip casserole and baste with the rendered juices. Correct seasoning, if necessary. Raise heat slightly and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes more, basting several times, until juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful or two of flavored olive oil. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the casserole. Set aside uncovered. Reheat slowly at serving time or serve cold.
(Servings: 4-8, Prep time: forever, Cook time: forever, Difficulty: Intermediate)
Shanon (taste): 8/10
Scot (taste): 8/10
Dishwashing Effort: 4/5