Summer’s  Bounty – Ratatouille

One of my favorite things about summer is utilizing the fresh vegetables that it has to offer. I’m sure you’ve all probably seen the adorable Disney Film Ratatouille. It was released 8 years ago in June. I remember going to the theater with my friends and my mom. The moment the city view of Paris came into the frame my mom and I both let out the audible sigh that accompanies any visual of Paris or France. If you’ve been to Paris, you probably know it well.

Ratatouille

The thing that stands out most from this movie is, of course, the famous Ratatouille dish that is quintessential in French cuisine. It is shown in two different presentations: the one that Remy makes, and then as a stew when we see Anton Ego eating as a child.  They impart two separate cooking techniques. I will tell you that I felt the same reaction eating it as Anton Ego felt. The tremendous depth of flavor this dish offers is nothing short of miraculous.

I tend to hunt recipes on the internet and then decide what parts I like best and incorporate them for my dish. I truly love the presentation of the thinly sliced vegetables made up in an alternating layout. While doing my Ratatouille search, I discovered Bruno’s YouTube video (make sure you watch this, once you do you’ll know this is a cinch). Now to be quite honest, there are very few things I don’t like food wise. I altered his recipe extracting the peppers and substituting them with a small container of tomato sauce. I also used Chinese eggplant instead of Japanese eggplant. Chinese eggplant is less bitter than it’s counterpart.

I’ve made Ratatouille three times since the Anniversary of the film in June. The second time, I had my mother over for lunch. I served it with a warm buttered baguette with basil leaves, a baby Romaine salad,  grapes, and strawberry basil water. My mother was absolutely surprised at how delicious this dish was and I’ve taken my parents two Ratatouilles since!

Refreshing and light Strawberry Basil Water
Refreshing and light Strawberry Basil Water
Déjeuner avec maman.
Déjeuner avec maman.

Now let’s get to the nitty gritty. This dish is a couple of days worth of work. Some of the work is just letting it cook for several hours or giving the flavors time to marry. I break this down into three days. The first day, I prepare the red sauce. The second day, I mandolin the vegetables and put the ratatouille together and allow it to slow roast for three hours. The third day, I cook it right before I intend on serving it. Mise en place is your friend. You may not have the time to prepare this and put it all together for the three hour slow roast. I will say this, the more days this takes, the more depth of flavor this dish will have. When choosing your vegetables make sure your Chinese eggplant, roma tomatoes, zucchini, and yellow squash are very close to the same circumference. This will keep a beautiful continuity throughout your Ratatouille presentation.

Ratatouille mise en place. See it looks so easy!
Ratatouille mise en place. See it, looks so easy!
Ratatouille one for moi, one for my parents.
Ratatouille one for moi, one for my parents.

Ratatouille (adapted from Bruno’s video above)

Serves 8-10

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 Onion, diced
  • 2 Carrots, diced
  • 2 Celery stalks, diced
  • 2 Tablespoons of crushed garlic
  • 1 – 28 ounce can, crushed tomatoes
  • 1 – 7 ounce can, tomato sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon Herbes de Provence
  • 6 fresh basil leaves torn
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Sliced Vegetables

  • 2 Zucchini
  • 2 Chinese Eggplants (Japanese will work, too)
  • 2 Yellow Squash
  • 6 Roma Tomatoes (I use 9 to make 1 large and 1 small ratatouilles)

Topping

  • 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon of garlic, crushed
  • 1 Teaspoon of Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste

Tomato Sauce Instructions:

Turn your 4 quart sauce pan on medium high heat.  It’s important to make sure the pan is actually hot before you put anything in your pan. Add in equal parts olive oil and butter, once melted and combined, add in onions, carrots, celery, and sauté until vegetables are tender (using caution not to brown your vegetables). Turn the heat down to medium low, add crushed garlic, sauté for just another minute or two. Note overcooked garlic turns sour, use caution. Add in the two cans of tomatoes, herbes de provence, salt, and pepper, and bring it a simmer.  I allow this to simmer for a few hours but, if 45 minutes is all the time you have, that works, too. At the end of the simmer, add your torn basil leaves, add more salt, and pepper, if necessary. If you have a trusty immersion blender use that to blend the sauce into a smooth texture. You can also put this into the blender but you will need to allow the sauce to cool before doing so. Hot sauce tends to force the lid off the blender. It’s best to do this in two batches, if you’re using your blender.

Depending on my mood, I will also add a dash of Piment d’Espelette. It gives it a warmth and a bit of a smoky flavor. These are peppers grown and harvested in Basque country in the South of France. This is not a hot pepper like a habanero. Piment d’Espelette is rich in flavor. It took me forever to find it, too. I finally found it at Sur La Table when I was in their store a year ago. It’s also used in a mushroom pate recipe which was why I invested in it.

I allow the tomato sauce to sit overnight. I find that it really helps develop the flavor just that much more.

Vegetables

The following day, I will slice each of the vegetables on number 2 setting on my mandolin. I use a sharp knife for the tomatoes though. You don’t want to ruin their integrity by squishing them through the mandolin. If you don’t have a mandolin, use a very sharp knife. I’d love for everyone to keep their fingers here, so please use caution with both.  Pay close attention, if you’re using the knife as to the width of your vegetables. This is a great place to practice your knife skills. They should be about an eighth of an inch wide.

Preheat your oven to 280°F

Now take out your casserole dish. I use a parchment paper cover for the slow roasting part instead of foil. Place your vessel of choice bottom side down on the parchment paper, trace with pencil and then cut out. Double check to make sure that it’ll cover the veggies before you start assembling your ratatouille. Set the parchment paper aside. This is the arts and crafts portion of our cooking!

I use my 14 inch Le Creuset Oval Baker and my 1 quart au gratin for the extra. You can use any shape pan you wish. Place several spoon fulls of the tomato sauce into your vessel of choice. You want it to have a nice bed of sauce. Use your larger sized vegetables for the outer circle and save the smaller ones for the center. Next, start layering your vegetables in your hand before you put the first set into your vessel. I normally use the zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, tomato order. I will repeat that three times then gently nestle them into the outer most part of the vessel on top of the sauce. This way your vegetables have a place to lean. Repeat this for the outer most circle until completed. Don’t be afraid to pack them in snugly, they will slow roast into a gorgeous display. Fill in the next circle of your vessel until the entire layer of sauce below is completely covered.  Mix your garlic, olive oil, thyme topping together and drizzle it over the top of the vegetables. I always just do a little bit at a time so that I can go back over and make sure it’s beautifully covered.

Now cover your vessel with the parchment paper that was set aside and put into the preheated 280° oven for 3 hours.  When the 3 hours are up, take out the Ratatouille, allow to cool, then cover and refrigerate. Now before serving the following day (this is day three for those of you keeping track at home). Preheat your oven to 350° F and bake uncovered for 45 minutes and serve.

I know what you’re thinking, “wow this smells incredible but now how do I get it safely out of the vessel to serve?” Use a large serving spoon and image you’re using it as cake server. You’re just going along the outside edge instead of straight into the center.  Place the spoon under the outside edge under the circular part of the vegetables. Lift out about 2 sets of the zucchini, yellow squash, tomato, eggplant, using your other hand to balance the end that the spoon doesn’t reach. I promise it’s a lot easier than it might seem.

I sprinkle a little Fleur de sel over the top and serve with a crusty warm baguette. Last night, I served it with roasted Herbes de Provence chicken (as you can see from the image below). You will surely have left over ratatouille sauce. This is also exceptional over pasta and then topped with ratatouille or shredded chicken. I truthfully don’t know why I don’t make the ratatouille sauce base in double or triplicate so I can freeze it for later? It would really make putting this together that much more of a cinch!

Ratatouille can also be served cold the following day. Add some briny olives to it and serve (the French ladies I know taught me that!).

Once you taste this absolutely delicious tomato summer on a plate with hints of the Provence countryside you’ll know it was worth every second. This dish showcases summer in such a surprising and delightful way. It’s filling but not heavy. It is immensely satisfying visually and full of flavor from the lemony thyme, warmth of the light lavender, and rosemary. The bonus is this dish only improves every day after you make it.

Now my question is this: Are you going to try it? I’d love to see photos if you do use #aroundtheworldineightygreys on twitter or instagram.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I’m here to remind you that you that “Anyone can cook.” Have a fantastic week!

Herbes de Provence roasted chicken, ratatouille, and a warm baguette.
Herbes de Provence roasted chicken, ratatouille, and a warm baguette.

3 thoughts on “Summer’s  Bounty – Ratatouille

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