CSA Week 6: Ratatouille Ratatouille

August 14, 2012 § 5 Comments

The haul – wow!
yellow squash
mole peppers

Finally, it was time. Ratatouille time.

Well, first it was buying a mandoline time. Because this wasn’t just going to be any ratatouille. (“Ratatouille? But it’s a peasant dish!”) This food blog is fancy. And this ratatouille is really, really fancy. This is French Laundry’s Thomas Keller reinvents Michel Guérard reinvents haute cuisine fancy. By way of Pixar, of course. Is there anyone who has ever set foot in a kitchen who wasn’t inspired by the movie Ratatouille? And when the ingredients all came into season, it was time to get a mandoline. I bought the Swissmar Börner V-1001 V-Slicer, mainly because of the positive reviews for its safety guard and the fact that it could be rinsed off rather than disassembled to wash the blades separately.

Friends, this is the recipe that almost broke me, even with a few shortcuts. I can happily cook for hours on end (or de-spine tiny cucumbers, for that matter). This is the recipe that, after I got the dish into the oven an hour after I intended to, made me throw all the leftover ingredients into a pot and just leave it there to simmer while I muttered. And the stovetop version was good. It was a tasty, happy peasant dish, and it was good enough. But the fancy version redeemed itself and opened even my eyes – me, a self-proclaimed foodie and someone who values perseverance and attention to detail in the kitchen – to the possibilities of food that goes beyond good enough. The combination of slowly roasting/steaming the vegetables in a flavorful sauce base then browning them at the end brings out all their best qualities.

And then I made a few simplifications that I don’t think compromise the quality and make this maybe not an easy-weekday-night-dinner dish, but at least a doable-dinner-party-knockout. It takes time, but you can make most of it ahead and do the last step the day of. Oh and here’s the thing: they are vegetables, and they don’t have to look perfect. The recipe quantities don’t even have to be exact, so add a little extra tomato if you’re lucky enough to be up to your ears in them from the garden. Because of the technique of this version of the recipe, it will still be really, really good. Read on.

Confit Byaldi, a.k.a. Ratatouille Ratatouille
adapted from Thomas Keller
for one 9×13″ baking dish, or two 8″ round baking dishes (Pyrex, ceramic, enameled cast iron) – serves 6-8
for a double recipe of the piperade because these are semi-standard jar sizes:

  • one 15oz jar roasted bell peppers, drained and coarsely chopped
  • one pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or one 15oz can diced tomatoes
  • one small to medium onion, coarsely chopped or sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • one teaspoon chopped garlic, 2-3 cloves
  • sprig of thyme
  • bay leaf
  • salt to taste
  • 2 T olive oil

The piperade is the base on which this dish is built. Saute the onions and garlic in the oil till soft but not brown, 5-10 minutes. Add the tomatoes along with the herbs and simmer until they are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add the peppers and simmer for another few minutes. Puree the piperade with an immersion blender, or carefully spoon it into a blender or food processor. It will still be quite thick. Salt to taste. Spread a thin layer over the bottom of your baking dish. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

While the piperade is simmering, start slicing your veggies. I highly recommend a mandoline, or a ninja-chef. My first try I used the thin setting which is about 1/16 inch (shown in the first picture). The second try I used the thick setting which is closer to 1/4 inch, and I highly recommend the thicker setting so as not to drive yourself crazy. It’s easy to get pretty stacks if your vegetables are all about the same diameter, but if not: they’re just vegetables.

  • two small to medium zucchini
  • two small to medium yellow squash
  • two Japanese (thin) eggplants, or one regular (thick) eggplant
  • about four tomatoes

Place a line of alternating veggies, overlapping by about 1/4 inch. You can slide the stack together with one hand and place veggies with the other to keep it from sliding down into the pan. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt. This picture is version two with the thicker slices. So much easier.
Cover the pan tightly with foil (or with a precisely cut layer of parchment paper if you are trying to recreate the movie exactly). Bake at 300 for two hours. Yep, two hours. Go read a book. Then uncover and bake for another 15 minutes or so, until most of the liquid has evaporated but the veggies aren’t browned. Let it cool, then cover it and stick it into the fridge until tomorrow.

Uncover, and place under the broiler for about 15 minutes until just browned. Sprinkle lightly with a mixture of olive oil and balsamic (not much – maybe a tablespoon of each). Serve to your amazed friends. Add the leftovers to pasta and omelets. Smile because it’s the summertime and you are eating vegetables.

How good was it? Good enough to take me back to my childhood in the French countryside…and I didn’t even have a childhood in the French countryside. (One of the most beautiful movie scenes ever, by the way. I love Pixar so much.)

What do you think? Worth the effort?


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§ 5 Responses to CSA Week 6: Ratatouille Ratatouille

  • Tammy says:

    Beautiful dish! What are mole peppers?

    • Miya says:

      Thanks Tammy! I’m not entirely clear but I think they are similar to pasillas and other medium spicy peppers and you can use them in Mexican mole sauce (as in mo-lay, not sauce made from the critters thank goodness!)

  • inherchucks says:

    Totally worth the effort. SOOOO fancy!

    Come and link up to this week’s party when you get a chance…http://inherchucks.com/2012/08/08/whats-in-the-box-38/. Looking forward to seeing you there 🙂

  • Steve Bell says:

    I made this yesterday. Mandoline was set to between 1/16″ and 1/8″. Perfect for slicing zucchini and yellow squash, a bit challenging for red bell peppers, and I just used a knife for ripe garden-variety tomatoes. I could probably processed roma tomatoes with the mandoline, but the regular tomatoes provided just the right amount of moisture. I hate eggplant so I didn’t use it.

    I didn’t use parchment paper but just wrapped up three small pans with foil: two gratin dishes and an enameled cast-iron skillet, ten inches across. I found the skillet, being larger, provided critical mass and kept the veggies from drying out or scorching the juices and piperade. If I had to put my finger on one ingredient that made this dish awesome it would be the roasted peppers in the piperade. If you jazz up the roasted peppers you’ll jazz up the whole thing.

    Goat cheese on top was decadent. Modifications could be sliced mushrooms, yellow beets, red or gold potatoes. Thanks for the recipe.

    • Miya says:

      Hi Steve, thanks so much for your feedback about the recipe! I love your modification ideas – goat cheese on anything sounds good to me 🙂

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