So…how many of you saw the title and instantly wandered off to romantic Paris in their mind, with its cobble-stoned rues and fresh baguettes? Right? A few Christmases ago, my sweetheart surprised me with Pixar’s ‘Ratatouille’, and I instantly fell in love with it for more reasons than just the adorable rat Rémy and the equally as lovable man who gave me the movie in the first place. I loved it because it teaches us a very simple but important lesson in life: no matter who you are or where you come from, there’s always something wonderful around the corner when you follow your passion. Aw.
Now the thing is, there’s nothing even remotely Belgian about ratatouille. It’s a dish straight out of French cuisine, Provence to be precise. As children, my brother & I spent many Summer vacations in our family’s sweltering caravan, on a dusty campground at the Cote d’Azur.
How lucky were we?
Ratatouille is reminiscent of the flavors of my childhood vacations, so it has a special place in my heart, right next to the smell of gasoline and roasted salty & sweet peanuts. Don’t ask.
Rémy didn’t actually cook ‘ratatouille’ as his showcase dish for Mr. Anton Ego, the austere & disdainful food critic in the movie. No. Rémy cooked ‘Confit Byaldi’.
While similar in flavor, Confit Byaldi is the more elegant version of its often too soggy & overcooked Provençal cousin ratatouille. Visually stunning, Confit Byaldi tempts with caramelized layers of equal size slices of zucchini, yellow squash, Japanese eggplant & roma tomatoes, all resting happily on a bed of piperade sauce. Doesn’t that sound sexy already? And with all these gorgeous Summer vegetables making a happy appearance at your local farmers’ market right now, the timing couldn’t be better.
(adapted from Thomas Keller)
For the Piperade sauce:
– 1/2 red bell pepper, seeds & ribs removed, finely diced
– 1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeds & ribs removed, finely diced
– 1/2 of orange bell pepper, seeds & ribs removed, finely diced
– 1 small clove of garlic, minced (+/- 1 tsp)
– 2-3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
– 1.5 cups of crushed tomatoes
– 1 small onion, finely diced
– 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, left whole
– salt & pepper
– 1 bay leaf
Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté onion & garlic over medium-low heat until onions are soft but not browned, +/- 8 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, thyme & bay leaf, and simmer until everything is very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes. Add peppers and simmer until soft, another 8-10 minutes or so. Discard bay leaf & thyme, season with salt & pepper.
For the 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 small red onion, sliced thinly but make sure rounds stay together and don’t fall apart
– 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced in rounds
– 1 tsp minced garlic
– 2 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 tsp of chopped fresh thyme leaves
– 1/2 cup of sliced black olives (if you hate olives, you can totally leave them out. No big deal)
– salt and pepper, to taste
(*) I use a mandolin to slice
my thumbnail all vegetables nice & evenly, but you can definitely do this by hand as well. Just make sure all slices are even in size.
Spread piperade sauce on the bottom of an oven-proof pan. Heat oven to 250F degrees.
Arrange alternating vegetables in a close spiral, so that 1/4 of each slice of vegetable sticks out. Repeat until pan is filled and all (or most) of the vegetables are used.
Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables.
Cover the pan with foil and seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender, about 2 hours. Uncover, turn oven to 400F and bake for 30 minutes more, or until the dish is slightly browned and liquid has mostly evaporated.
Take out of the oven and sprinkle olives and fresh thyme over the top.
I typically serve this over couscous or brown rice, barley… You name it. Chicken or fish are great with this dish as well.