Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ratatouille: a classic French country dish

Many Americans first heard of ratatouille after Pixar released their well-loved CGI film with that title. (Though I was charmed by the film on some level, personally this cook sympathized with Anton Ego, the smug French food critic who was horrified by the idea of a rat in the kitchen.) Ratatouille is the dish that won Anton's heart in the end. The simple vegetarian fare is a far cry from the Parisian haut cuisine that is served in most American French restaurants, yet is quite representative of the way most French people actually eat. Fresh vegetables, spices, and herbs take center stage in this and many other French country dishes. I chose to prepare this particular dish when I received an eggplant, onions, parsley, and a bunch of zucchini in my Full Circle Farm box.

All the work is in the initial vegetable preparation. It does take awhile to slice, sweat, and seed the veggies, but the actual cooking is very straightforward. It is absolutely crucial to sweat the eggplant and zucchini prior to stewing them to prevent a mushy consistency. I also leave the skins on the eggplant, tomatoes, and zucchini for improved texture. The resulting stew is soft but not squishy, full of flavor, and deeply satisfying without being heavy. It's a good choice for a cooler day. Enjoy it with a glass of medium-bodied red wine, such as one from the Rhone region, a thick slice of hearty bread, and a little soft cheese.


1 large eggplant, halved lengthwise and cut into 3/8" thick slices
3/4 lb zucchini, sliced 1/2" thick
salt & pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium brown onions, thinly sliced
4 fresh garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 lb fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 green and 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and sliced
large "bouquet garni" (handful celery tops and few sprigs fresh thyme, tied with a piece of string)
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped


1. Spread the sliced eggplant and zucchini on baking trays, sprinkle them with salt, and leave them to stand for 30 minutes. This will "sweat" out excess moisture and prevent a squishy texture. After 30 minutes, rinse them well with water, dry thoroughly with paper towels, and set aside.

2. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large casserole (enameled cast iron is ideal) over medium heat. Saute the onions with a little salt and pepper for 5-7 minutes, until clear (not brown).

3. Alternately layer the eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, and coriander into the casserole.

4. Spoon in the remaining 2 tbsp of oil, stir, and sprinkle the parsley on top.

5. Push the bouquet garni, top down, into the center of the pot.

6. Cover and simmer over low heat, 15 minutes, then turn over the contents gently with a wooden spoon so the top layers are pushed to the bottom. Cover again and simmer for 10 more minutes. The vegetables should be cooked but not mushy.

7. If the stew is too soupy, remove the lid, raise the heat to med-high, and cook for 5 additional minutes to evaporate some of the liquid.

8. Discard the bouquet garni and serve.

Bon appetit!

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