Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Recipe: Ratatouille

I recently picked up Julia Child's cookbook 'Mastering The Art of French Cooking' again after a very long time. Fond, fond memories poured forth from the stained pages. The spine has come loose; the book is worse for wear. I could replace it with a fresh copy, one of the recent editions, but I probably won't. It's like a comfortable pair of jeans. Like an old friend. I looked at the copyright and was shocked to see that the edition I have is the twenty-ninth, and was published in 1977 -- the year I graduated from high school, and the year that I left home and family to go live with and cook for a French family in France. I actually used a copy of 'Mastering' that Madame Zundel, an American woman married to a Frenchman, had in her kitchen when I did the family's cooking. I wonder how many other Americans were introduced to French cooking in France while using Julia's cooking bible? I bought the book when I returned from France in 1978 so I have had it for thirty-one years. An old friend indeed.

Since I started the Auntie Em's produce delivery - where I get a nice selection of farmers market produce delivered to me once a week - I have been trying very hard to eat it all. To not throw anything out. And now in week five I have for the most part succeeded. The amount of fruits and vegetables I receive is more than enough for myself. If I didn't have Robert coming over a few times a week I probably wouldn't be able to eat it all. Between the two of us we manage to get through it. However, this last week I did have more than I knew we could handle. So I decided to make something that would use up all the vegetables I had: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, zucchini and onions. Ratatouille has all those vegetables in it. It would also be a perfect summer dish as it can be eaten either hot or cold. I grabbed 'Mastering The Art,' flipped to the recipe for ratatouille, and spent an afternoon in the warm embrace of Julia. What could be more appropriate in what has seemingly become the unofficial month of Julia Child?

Here's the recipe:

From 'Mastering The Art of French Cooking'

Serves 6-8

Preparation Time: 3-4 hours


1/2 lb. of eggplant
1/2 lb. of zucchini
7 Tb of olive oil, more if needed, as directed
1/2 lb. of yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 (about 1 cup) green bell peppers, sliced
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 lb. firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and juiced
3 Tb parsley, minced
Salt and pepper, as directed

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 3-quart, porcelain or stainless steel mixing bowl and toss with 1 tsp. salt. Let stand for 3o minutes. Drain. Dry each slice in a towel.

In a 10- to 12-inch enameled skillet sauté, one layer at a time, the eggplant, and then the zucchini in hot olive oil for about a minute on each side to brown 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 the tomatoes have begun to render juice. Uncover, baste the tomatoes with the juices, raise the heat and boil for several minutes, until juice has almost entirely evaporated.

Place a third of the tomato mixture in the bottom of 2 1/2 quart fireproof casserole and sprinkle over it 1 tablespoon of parsley. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, the 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 more times, until the juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful 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.

Here's to Julia and, as she would say: Bon Appétit!

My Status: enjoying all the summer produce; writing, cooking, blogging and eating!

Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.
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  1. Charles, this looks incredible. And what timing too. I'm preparing a special tribute to Julia Child (to be released on her birthday, August 15th). As is tradition, I like to cook a dish from her book on her birthday. I have never made her ratatouille, but after seeing what you've done, I definitely have to try it. It looks healthy and delicious.

    Well done, and cheers to you for celebrating Julia this week!

  2. Thanks Phil. I love that you make one of her dishes on her birthday. I may steal that idea from you! Will you blog about it? The rataouille is quite labor intensive but worth it -- and it was actually fun to spend 3-4 hours in my kitchen cooking away...

  3. W-O-W!!! This is my kind of dish; I cooked a very very similar Arabic dish to this one last week! Love all the fresh ingredients in it, you made me want to blog about it next time I make it.
    Charles! This looks amazing; I love your step by step photos. Awesome job!!

  4. Thank you Afaf! Coming from you - with your own amazing step-by-step blog posts - that is a HUGE compliment. I really appreciate it. I am quite happy with the results. The dish turned out perfectly. You MUST blog about your own version. We all want to see that! :-)

  5. This would make Remy, Gusteau & Colette so PROUD. Even Anton Ego would be smiling!

    Seriously, looks delicious!

  6. LOL Jo! I was waiting for someone to make that connection - in fact all during making it, and then writing about it the movie kept popping into my head. I love when pop culture collides with something as a old-school as ratatouille. Great stuff! Thanks!!

  7. Best Restaurant Movie EVER! (Big Night & Mostly Martha come close)... xo

  8. OK, this is getting ridiculous. I just re-watched Ratatouille last night! Are we all starting to think alike too? ;-)

    I'm planning a special podcast for the 15th that will celebrate her birthday, with some audio clips, and a recipe from her book. I've been in Julia mode all week, and I can't wait for this movie.

    Good food movies don't come out all that often. Usually, we're fed crap like "No Reservations" (which was horrible).

  9. Looking forward to that Phil! I think it's great that we, and many others too, are celebrating Julia. She really did change how America looks at food and cooking.

    I can't remember - did they ever actually make the dish in 'Ratatouille'? I don't think they did...?

  10. I used to think Julia when I thought of ratatouille, but now I happen to be in the same camp. I think Ego would be proud :)

    Healthy & delicious, I love this earthy dish. Great post!

  11. This is definitely a Julia Child month! Your ratatouille is beautiful!

  12. Remy did make it. It was his version of Ratatouille that made the movie. Anton Ego took one bite and was immediately shot back to a childhood memory when he'd had a rough day and his mother comforted him with ratatouille.

    Thomas Keller actually designed the dish for the movie. There's an extra on the DVD that shows him making it. He slices everything in rounds and packs it all in over a bed of tomato sauce, then covers it in parchment paper, so the vegetables don't burn when it bakes. It's a brilliant dish.

    I'm with Kristen. I love this healthy dish.

  13. Kristen: thank you so much. I guess it's the movie all the way now!

    Natasha: Thank you as well. Always appreciate your comments and your stopping by. Here's to Julia!

    Phil: Thanks for filling me in. I have the worst memory for movies after I've seen them. I love the Thomas Keller angle!! I came very close to scorching my veggies. Will rent the DVD so I can check that out. Very noteworthy.

    Thanks all.

  14. Charles- This looks divine and I love how it is such a good way to use up market vegetables! Mine keep piling up. If you are interested I have the Keller recipe in my files. Haven't tried it or Julia's yet but this looks so good I don't think I should wait much longer!

  15. Thanks Phho-D. It was the perfect antidiote to the excess veggies piling up. Would love to have the Keller version whenever you get a chance. I did put RATATOUILLE on my Netflix list as I do want to see the footage of TK on the bonus material.