The time has come for my first recipe post! I went shopping at a little produce market in West Portal yesterday after work and bought all the ingredients to make ratatouille. (A mere $10, including a few other things that weren't even for the ratatouille!! Talk about bang for my buck.)
Apart from inspiring the animated film, ratatouille is a beloved traditional Provencal vegetable stew. It's one of those dishes where every family in Nice has there own take on how to make it, and with the French being the French, everyone seems to think they are the ones who make it properly. The humble American that I am, I did a loose interpretation of the recipe Julia Childs wrote.
In my opinion, it's less about what goes in to the ratatouille, and more about the process. I suppose some French purists would "poo poo" this notion, but seriously dude? Fix your zinger before you fix my ratatouille.
Since I was too exhausted to make it last night, I made it today. And I was quite pleased with the end result.
Ratatouille (yields 6 servings)
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1/2 medium eggplant
1 medium can of whole peeled tomatoes
(You can add any other veggie to this you want: mushrooms, peas, summer squash, green beans. I mean why not? For instance I had carrots that were nearing limp-land, so threw them into the mix.)
Any combination of the following spices:
thyme, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, basil, or any generic "herbs de provence" mix will do
a pinch of sugar
salt and pepper to taste
So, the first key to a good ratatouille is getting the vegetables all cut into somewhat uniform pieces. This will allow everything to cook evenly and the texture will be a lot nicer.
The next part is up to you. You could just throw everything into a pan and sautee it all together, but Julia recommends a technique that is a bit more labor intensive, but certainly worth the added effort.
Her ratatouille is so good because of the subtle layering of the different flavors.
In one pan sautee the onion, garlic, and bell peppers in olive oil. In another pan sautee the zucchini in olive oil, and when that is cooked transfer it into a bowl. Repeat this process for the eggplant. In the meantime, the onion-garlic-pepper mixture should be simmering at a medium low heat. (At this point I threw in my carrots, so if you have any funny little add-ins, toss them into the onion mixture about now.) Let that continue to cook, and pour the can of tomatoes into a bowl. Break them up gently with your hands, then add it to the onion mixture. Add your fresh tomato and your herb mixture. (Go ahead and over-season a bit because this will also be seasoning the currently unseasoned zucchini and eggplant.) Add a healthy dash of salt, and more black pepper than you think you need. Don't forget that pinch of sugar- it balances the natural acidity of the tomatoes. Let this big "sauce" mixture simmer and reduce for about 8-10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
This is where Julia's "layering" technique comes in.
Add these components to each other in a large baking dish.
A little onion tomato, a little zucchini, a little eggplant- rinse, repeat... you get the picture.
The idea is to have a complex layering of flavors, where no one taste outshines the other and they all combine harmoniously in your mouth!!
Let the ratatouille bubble away for about 30 minutes in the oven and voila! Enjoy! It is best served with some sort of starch; polenta, pasta, crusty french bread, or like I had, a baked potato seasoned simply with salt and pepper and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. (See Rachel Ray? Obnoxious acronyms aren't always necessary.)
Cooking all this French fare got me in the mood for some musique Franciase! Here are some choice cuts from the land of brie, Chagall, and attitude unmatched by anyone, anywhere.
Carla Bruni (Yeah, that's right. The French First Lady.)
And I just couldn't resist the punnery...
Get it? Ratatat?? Ratatouille?? Ah, mon Dieu!
Regardless, this song is pretty fun to cook to.