July 12, 2007


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Reintroducing ratatouille
Thanks to a cartoon rat, the vegetable dish finds new fame
By Susan Manley news@hippopress.com

In the movie Ratatouille, Remy is an animated Parisian rat with big culinary dreams.Unfortunately for him, he lives in a society that shuns rodents in the kitchen.

Now a household word because of all the movie hype, ratatouille is also a tasty French vegetable stew.

Pronounced ra-ta-TOO-ee, the name is derived from the French words “rata,” French Army slang meaning “chunky stew,” and “touiller,” meaning “to stir.”

When Disney set out to make the animated movie Ratatouille, the creators from Pixar turned to California chef Thomas Keller for guidance, according to press reports.

In the fickle chef world, Keller is nothing less than a god. He’s the genius behind French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., often referred to as the best restaurant in the United States, and Per Se in New York City. Being immortalized in animation might just have cemented that reputation.

For the movie, Keller whipped up a ratatouille recipe that takes the traditional peasant stew of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers and onions with garlic, olive oil and sometimes Herbs de Provence and made it less of a stew and more of a casserole by layering it.

Local chefs like to keep it simple when it comes to ratatouille, sticking with the tried, true and speedy recipe that satisfies.

“We were just talking about Ratatouille, it is so funny that you asked,” said Jeff Paige, chef and co-owner of Cotton in Manchester.

Paige said that one of his cooks, a recent graduate of Cordon Bleu in Dover, is moving to Paris for three months, and that he wants Cotton’s kitchen crew to go see the movie before he leaves.

“The movie sounds great and ratatouille, what a great dish,” Paige said.

Paige has been making ratatouille for so long, he said, that he can’t remember where or when he learned the recipe.

“It is one of those things, something you learn to make early on in your career. It is a dish that tends to resonate with summer because it is so easy to put together, especially when zucchini is in season,” Paige said. Cotton runs ratatouille as a special side dish throughout the summer.

At Michael Timothy’s in Nashua, chef Steve Narducci also makes ratatouille the traditional French way, and in addition to serving it as a side dish he sometimes tops filets of fish, chicken or beef with it and occasionally features it as a vegetarian option, served roasted with melted cheese.

“I first learned to cook ratatouille as a new cook. It is the kind of dish that gets delegated to new cooks because there is so much chopping,” Narducci said.

Ratatouille should be prepared with little fuss. Overcook it and it will turn to mush. Undercook it and the vegetables will be tough. Not like risotto which has to be babysat, a simple peasant-style ratatouille requires less than 10 minutes of your time once it is in the pan.

Fortunately eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes have the same consistency, so they cook at the same pace. Peppers and onions require a few more minutes in the hot pan to soften, so add them first.

Some cooks use just garlic, olive oil and oregano. Some add Herbs de Provence, that cute clay pot of blended herbs adds an aromatic flavor to the ragout. Equally good hot or cold, ratatouille also makes a fine accompaniment to cold meats, or may be served as a cold hors d’oeuvre with hearty crackers and a slice of good cheese. It is good reheated, because it seems to pick up flavors.

Julia Child can be credited with first bringing ratatouille into our homes. Looking for ways to bring French food to American tables, with this dish she brought the labor-intensive version. Child cooked each ingredient separately and then combined them. This recipe, along with Keller’s, takes ratatouille away from its peasant roots.

Ratatouille is best using one good pot, one spoon and the freshest vegetables you can find.

Ratatouille recipes
Thomas Keller’s Ratatouille
Keller’s version is sophisticated and layered.
Serves 4
For piperade:
1/2 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3 tomatoes (about 12 ounces total weight), peeled, seeded and finely diced, juices reserved
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1/2 bay leaf
Kosher salt

For vegetables:
1 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 Japanese eggplant (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
1 yellow squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Assorted fresh herbs (thyme flowers, chervil, thyme)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make piperade: Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely.
Combine oil, garlic and onion in medium skillet and cook over low heat on stovetop until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes, do not brown; add peppers and simmer to soften them. Season to taste with salt and discard herbs. Reserve 1 tablespoon of mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 8-inch ovenproof skillet.
To prepare vegetables:
Heat oven to 275 degrees. In center of skillet arrange 8 alternating slices of vegetables, 2 each of zucchini, eggplant, squash and tomatoes, over piperade, overlapping in a circle so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed.
Continue alternating and overlapping vegetables in a close spiral that lets slices mound slightly in center. Repeat until the pan is filled; you might not need all the vegetables. Mix garlic, oil and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover skillet with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.) If there is excess liquid in pan, place over medium heat on stove until reduced. (At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. If desired, reheat in 350-degree oven until warm.)
To make vinaigrette: Combine reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.
To serve: Heat broiler and place byaldi underneath until lightly browned. Cut in quarters and very carefully lift one quarter onto plate with offset spatula. Turn spatula 90 degrees, guiding byaldi into fan shape. Drizzle vinaigrette around plate.

Easy Ratatouille
Recipe by Jean Calviac from Your Own Private Gascony
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
2 large tomatoes (about 1 pound), halved and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 medium eggplant (1 pound), cut into 1-inch dice
1/2 pound zucchini, sliced crosswise 1 inch thick
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to moderately low and add the tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour. Discard the bay leaf and serve warm or at room temperature.
The ratatouille can be refrigerated for 3 days..

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2/1/2007 Super platters for the Super Bowl
1/25/2007 It's a wrap
1/18/2007 The writing foodie
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1/04/2007 The healthy foodie
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12/07/2006 Southeast U.S. culture, in sandwich form
11/30/2006 Bites of comfort with chips of happiness
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11/16/2006 Easier-to-enjoy Thanksgiving feasts
11/9/2006 The new classic
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10/19/2006 A new way to crepe
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02/02/2006 Forget formal dining, head to the bar
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01/19/2006 The secret lives of chefs
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A year of eats

All-you-can-read guide to breakfast
A bagel by any other l
A picnic — it’s romance with ants
A sweet burst of summer, in stages
Beef, It's What's For Dinner, Lunch, And Dessert
Be it ever so humble, the burger rules
Blockbuster snacks for your movie
Box Of Chocolates
C Is For Cookie And Christmas And Cool Combo
Celebrating A Holiday For The Rest Of Us
Celebrate Easter In A Sugar Coma
Chat And Chew

Chinese soup is magic
Chocolate cake makes everything better
Chocolate, Part II
Competition flows like chocolate
Corn Flake Chicken, Honeycomb Salad
Dining at the "Your House Bistro"
Don't Dread The Bread
Dress Up Your Next Meal
Drinking Out Of The Box
Eating Your Way Back To Health
Enter Soup
Experiments With Very Bad Brownies
Feeding A Crowd The Morning After
Follow the cider house rules
Fresh Herbs
Go ahead — run silent, run deep
Goodbye corn syrup, hello organic oatmeal
Go Indian for Thanksgiving
Grilled Cheese Junkie

Halloween candy for grown-ups
Have a Happy Meal and a happier wallet
Holiday Cookies - The Easy Way
Holiday Potluck 101-Tips For The Kitchen Novice
Home-Based Date
How do you like them apples?
In-A-Pinch Love Feast
It's not easy to be cheesy
It’s not Christmas without tamales
Lest We Forget The Humble Squash
Keeping your cool while you eat
Living through your salad days

Looking Beyond The Hot Dog Stand
Lunching your way to a less toxic you
Meat's meat and a man's gotta eat

Moist and delicious chicken — no, really
Oatmeal Cookies, The Miracle Cure
Oscar Night, When The Stars Come Out To Eat

Offering Up A Slice Of Teriyaki Pie
Pot Pies Are Darn Tasty
Pumpkin-Flavored Treats
Small Plates Are The Next Big Thing
Speedy 'za not pie in the sky
Steak: it’s what’s for dinner, again
Summer coolers, just add sunlight
Summer Squash
Super Bowl Grub
Take A Walk On The Dark Side
Taste of Manchester Event
The Cosmopolitan
The joys of a simple oatmeal breakfast
The return of comfort food
The One-Note Cook Book
The New American Plate Cookbook
The Stickiest, Hottest & Sweetest Of Love's Labors
The taste of retro
The Unheralded Peanut Butter Cookies
The union of sweet and heat
The Weekly Dish (12-16-04)
The Weekly Dish (12-23-04)

The Weekly Dish [1-13-05]
There's a Barbecue Bonanza Next Door
Week Four: Adding Diet To The Mix
What Was Hot And Haute In 2004
When $$ trumps urge to dine out
When in doubt, go for the organic
When nothing else will cool, Slurp it
You Say Potato, She'll Say Potato,Too
You say tomato, writer says lunch