Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Eating Omily: Ratatouille

Please, I beg of you, before this summer is over, make ratatouille. In case you missed out on the (so, so charming) Disney movie of the same name, it's pronounced, 'rat-tat-oo-ee'.

Aside from the incomprehensible deliciousness and obvious nutritious profile, ratatouille is an example, is a tutoring session, in local and seasonal eating. It's also a major favourite in my family; we just ate it for dinner yesterday! And this is what it looked like!

As you gather the ingredients at the Farmer's Market (Please!), and then lay them out on your counter before you, you'll hear in your mind's eye, or ear rather, someone with a French accent rejoicing over the summer bumper crop of produce...and then in the same breath lamenting the unlikelyhood of all of it being enjoyed before it starts to go downhill. Summer squash and eggplant don't make the best pickles...not quite enough tomatoes to can...what to do?? And then, in a stroke of appreciable genius, this enterprising Frenchwoman (well, you know, most likely it was a woman doing the cooking in the long forgotten day when the dish was invented), chopped up eggplant, onion, garlic, bell pepper, summer squash, and tomatoes, added basil, salt, and chilli pepper, and cooked it all down to a hearty ragout. She finished it with chopped basil, and a splash of fruity olive oil, and a dish that is a symbol of the Summer Bounty was born.

If you are charmed by my whimsical tale, yet doubt it's historical accuracy, I present to you the etymology of the word: "French, from blend of ratouiller to disturb: [or] shake, and tatouiller: to stir" (as taken from the Merriam Webster online dictionary). Obviously ratatouille is the product of taking the surplus of a beautiful summer garden, and stirring and shaking it all together into a dish even greater than the sum of its parts!

I'm sure you need no more convincing to put this beautiful dish together. Please press your right hand...no, both hands for good measure, to the computer screen and repeat,

I, (state your name), hereby solemnly swear to obtain all ingredients, save salt and olive oil, for ratatouille, from a farmer's market, road side stand, CSA, or other direct farm-to-customer method. I understand that the purpose of this is to enter into a culinary experience that transcends reading a cookbook, and instead connects me to the planet, and to the people who coaxed the biomass that will nourish and become a part of me out of the earth. I will remain present to the purpose of this dish, and it's firm roots in a time (Summer) and a place (my home). I will let this understanding nourish my spirit, even as the delectable blend of veggies nourishes my body. And in so doing, I will experience what it means to eat in consort with the earth, rather than in spite of it.

Now, here is the recipe for ratatouille that I follow, as adapted from Alice Water's wonderful book, The Art of Simple Food

Cut 1 medium eggplant into half-inch cubes. Toss with salt, and set the eggplant in a collander to drain for 20 minutes. (Don't worry; it'll take all 20 minutes and then some to get through the rest of the chopping!) All of the chopping instructions follow in the order that the ingredients are added to the dish. Wherever you are when the 20 minutes are up, stop chopping for the moment, and add the eggplant cubes to a LARGE, pre-heated, oiled saute pan. If you've never cooked with eggplant be prepared to be amazed at it's olive oil eating capacity. When the eggplant is golden, remove it from the pan and set aside.

Chop 2 medium onions into half-inch dice, chop 4-6 cloves of garlic, and tie together a bouquet of basil leaves.

Chop two sweet peppers, 3 medium summer squash, and 3 ripe medium tomatoes into a half-inch dice.

Once the eggplant is out of the pan, add more oil to the pan, then add the chopped onion, and cook for about 7 minutes (you can chop during those 7 minutes as well). Add the garlic, the basil bouquet, the salt, and optionally, some dried chili pepper flakes, or a slice or two of hot pepper. Cook for 2-3 more minutes,

then add the sweet peppers. Cook for a few minutes, then add the summer squash. Cook for a few more minutes, then add the tomatoes (scrape all the juice off the cutting board into the pan!)

Cook for ten minutes longer, then add the eggplant back into the pan, and cook for 10-15 minutes more, until all the veggies are tender, and it's all coming together into a thick, saucy dish.

Remove the basil bouquet, doing your best to squeeze out the flavors, add 6 leaves of basil chopped, and a generous drizzle of really delicious, high-quality olive oil.

You can make this dish way ahead; it's equally good hot or cold, and it only tastes better subsequent days as the flavors marry. My favourite way to eat it is with hearty wholegrain garlic bread and slices of fresh mozzarella.

Bon appetit!


  1. We couldnt fit all of our vegetables into our largest pan. wahhhhh :(

    Still tasted great tho!

  2. It does take a truly massive pan to fit it all in there! Obviously something super-wide and less shallow would get everything cooked faster, but a soup pot, deep enough to hold everything, would get the job done in a little more time with a little more stirring. So glad you liked it!