Disney's haute-cuisine hit "Ratatouille" couldn't come at a better time.
Not because it's a family-pleasing movie in summer. The timing is perfect because …
It's eggplant season. And tomato season. And zucchini/bell pepper/onion and garlic season.
Put together eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini, bell pepper, onions, garlic and olive oil and you've got ratatouille. And with "Ratatouille" stirring up interest, you might have a chance to get kids (and picky adults) to eat eggplant without sneering like food snobs in a two-star cafe.
Even cooking snobs have a reason to rejoice. Besides finally teaching the world how to pronounce "ratatouille" (rat-tah-TOO-ee, although we should point out that "rat-tuh-TWEE" also is acceptable), Disney's Pixar Studios spent time getting the cooking details right.
The studio sent its animators to cooking classes, and it enlisted Thomas Keller, arguably America's best chef, for advice. When Remy, the star rat, needs to create a ratatouille to please an important restaurant critic, Keller came up with idea of basing the dish on "confit byaldi," a stacked melange of paper-thin vegetables.
(A little kitchen-insider knowledge: Keller provides the voice of a restaurant patron. In the Spanish version, the patron's voice is star chef Ferran Adria; in France, it's Guy Savoy. And British moviegoers hear Jamie Oliver as a restaurant inspector.)
Ratatouille the dish is worth respect. Traditional in Provence, it isn't a stew so much as a celebration of late-summer vegetables. In the best versions, the vegetables are cooked separately, then combined.
Making a proper ratatouille is slower than just throwing everything in together. But like a computer-generated movie that is built bit by bit, the result is worth the time.
Ratatouille gets better when it's reheated, so you can make a batch and use it for several days. You can serve it warm or at room temperature. You can serve it as a main dish over rice or pasta, as a side dish or on bread as an appetizer or a simple lunch.
Serves 8. There are endless variations on ratatouille in cookbooks. But our favorite is this one, adapted from Julia Child's original book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," written by Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
- 1/2 pound eggplant
1/2 pound zucchini
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
6 to 7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 1 to 2 green bell peppers, seeded and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
- Freshly ground pepper
- 2 large, firm ripe tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
PEEL the eggplant, cut off the stem and cut lengthwise into 3-by-1-by-3/8-inch slices. Trim off zucchini ends. Cut into slices about the same size as the eggplant. Place vegetable slices in a large non-aluminum bowl (glass or plastic are fine). Toss with 1 teaspoon salt; let stand 30 minutes. Drain and pat slices dry on paper towels.
HEAT 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook eggplant and zucchini slices in batches until lightly browned, about 1 minute per side, adding more olive oil as needed. Set vegetables aside.
COOK onions and bell peppers in the same skillet in 2 to 3 tablespoons oil until tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and season with salt and pepper to taste.
PEEL tomatoes while the onions and pepper cook by dipping in boiling water, then in ice water to loosen the skins. (Or use a serrated-edge peeler.) Cut out tomato stems, cut tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds and excess juice. Slice tomato pulp into 3/8-inch strips. Lay tomato strips over the onion and peppers in the skillet. Season with salt and pepper.
COVER skillet; cook over medium-low heat until tomatoes begin to render juice, about 5 minutes. Uncover and baste tomatoes with cooking juices. Increase heat; boil until juice has almost evaporated, about 2 minutes.
PLACE 1/3 of the tomato/onion mixture in a heavy Dutch oven or heavy casserole. Sprinkle with 1tablespoon parsley. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top. Top with the half of the remaining tomato mixture and parsley. Top with the remaining eggplant and zucchini slices. Fish with remaining tomato mixture and parsley.
COVER and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip casserole and baste with rendered juices. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Raise heat slightly. Cook, uncovered, until juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Stir often to keep vegetables from scorching on the bottom. Serve hot, at room temperature or cold.