Ratatouille is a very famous dish. When I was a young lad in England the newspapers were full of a peculiarly English scandal. An ex-employee at Claridge's, the signature London hotel for visiting monarchs, had given an interview and had leaked a terrible secret.
The hotel’s secret recipe for ratatouille called for using canned tomatoes! Oh, the shame of it. Needless to say, the French were all full of the German schadenfreude and were clicking their tongues in mock distress. Few may remember this incident but more of you will know that this is the only dish to have inspired a Disney movie of the same name and you may have wondered what it was all about. You are about to find out. It’s simplicity itself. In France, it is really a peasant dish unfit for the haute tables and for gastronomes. But in the South, in the villages of Provencal France, it was at a time quite ubiquitous and a summery dish cheaply made with local ingredients from the yard and without meat; for peasants.
The dish had an unexpected resurgence after Disney memorialized it in their famous animated movie of the same. But in the movie, the dish is cooked by Remy the rat who could cook. But it looks more like a “grilled vegetable napoleon” with a delicate sauce dribbled on the plate. My daughter loved the movie and , after watching it recently, she wondered out aloud why my ratatouille looks so different. I took up the challenge and taught her how to make ratatouille in a quiche pan. She was skeptical all along as only a 12-year-old girl can be. ‘Have you ever made it like this before?’, she asked several times during the process. I had to confess I had not but that I thought it would work. The results were quite a grand success. The second time was even better.
The saffron is optional but add a touch of sophistication.
Desi’s please note that you could eliminate the onions and garlic and use your imagination and some chili, tamarind and coriander to add flavor to the tomato sauce as you would any pasta dish. But ratatouille cal for fresh onions and garlic and vine ripe tomato.
1/2 large sweet onion chopped
1 shallot minced
1 cove of fresh garlic minced
2 zucchini squash sliced
2 yellow squash sliced
1 medium eggplant sliced (optional)
Sweet red pepper diced 1/4 cup
1/2 leek sliced (optional)
1 garlic clove chopped
4 ripe tomatoes
1 dry red chili
1 tsp herbs de Provence
2 bay leaves
6 tsp olive oil (EVOO from Provence optional)
1 sprig fresh oregano and/or thyme
4 fresh mint leaves minced
Small bunch fresh chives for garnish
Pinch of Spanish saffron
Small bunch of Italian parsley chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Make your favorite tomato sauce. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil and and add crushed red chili pepper flakes. After a few seconds add the onions, shallots and leeks and peppers and sauté till the onions begin to clear and add the garlic, the bay leaves, and the remaining herbs de Provence. When the onions clear, add the tomatoes. You could also add a 1/2 can of crushed tomatoes and a tbs of thick tomato paste if you don’t mind the censure of purists. Add the fresh oregano, mint, and thyme and the optional saffron. A splash of wine is quite acceptable. salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat your oven to 375F.
Oil a nine or ten inch quiche pan. Any 2 inch deep baking dish will do. Cover the bottom with the tomato sauce and line the dish with the sliced vegetable, alternating them. 1 slice of tomato after every four of five of the squashes and a slice of leek or onion and eggplant after every ten slices. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and some salt and pepper. Cover with foil or an oven safe plate and bake on the top shelf of your preheated oven for forty minutes. Then remove the foil or lid and continue to bake for 15 -20 additional minutes uncovered. Now broil on high for 5 min. (your oven times may vary slightly based on your oven.
Remove and serve with crusty bread or over steaming hot rice with grated cheese on top and a glass or two of Beaujolais.