02 August 2011

It All Started With a Mouse...

Or is he a rat? I'm not sure, but mouse sounds nicer (although they are both honestly gross) so that's what I'm going to go with. Anyway, I love the movie Ratatouille and also the word ratatouille, so when we got an eggplant in our Bountiful Basket and a yellow squash & zucchini from Owen's parents, I knew exactly what I needed to make. I mean seriously, what else can you make from an eggplant that sounds palatable? Even if I thought it was awful, I just wanted the experience of creating something as beautiful as the ratatouille from that film. No normal chunky monkey funky ratatouille--I desired that thinly sliced awesomeness that won over even the toughest food critic.

So I searched and found this recipe titled "Ratatouille's Ratatouille." Perfect! Not only was it from one of my favorite food blogs of all time, but it actually didn't look all that difficult. Much more simple for sure than the supposed original version from the movie, which involves things like way more ingredients, changing the temperature of your oven more than twice, and refrigerating for two days. Who's got that kind of time?

And thus, in the vein of celebrating food blogs I love, I decided to document my ratatouille experience a la The Pioneer Woman, and photograph each step of the way. It's clear that my photos are much less freaking awesome than hers because I don't have nearly as much natural light in my kitchen as she does. Or as much practice, but you know, no big deal. So here we go!

Start by chopping half an onion into very small pieces. I was too lazy plus I love big chunks of onion, so I didn't get as fine as possible, but no worries. Also I've decided that a white onion on a white cutting board does not present a very visually interesting contrast. Note to self: buy wooden cutting board.

Also, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Don't be a dummy like me and always forget to preheat the oven.

Then let your teary eyes get a little rest and set the onions to the side while you pour one cup of tomato puree in an oval baking dish (approx. 10 inches lengthwise, but don't worry about it being too exact. Use what you've got).

Somehow I have never heard of tomato puree, but to my delight, there it was at the grocery store right next to the chopped tomatoes and the diced tomatoes and the tomato sauce and the tomato paste and the...okay I think you get the idea.

Add one (heaping is totally fine) tablespoon of minced garlic to the tomato puree. Or if you are following the real recipe and are not lazy like me, you can add 2 very thinly sliced garlic cloves to the mix. But seriously, when you can buy a giant tub of garlic for way cheap, why on earth would you ever go to the work of getting the real thing. I am a garlic LOVER so we go through that stuff pretty fast. Giant tub = almost empty.

Also, please note I am a garlic lover, not a gah-lic lover. Very different. Especially if you ever try getting pizza at Nicolitalia's. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Now grab those chopped onions and add them to the tomato puree as well.

Please take a moment to admire this action shot. It was quite difficult to get a picture of me pouring olive oil while also taking a picture. I don't know how she does it--the Pioneer Woman is truly incredible.

Anyway, add one tablespoon of olive oil and stir it all up. Try not to splash the sauce up on the sides like I did because we all know that the real goal of ratatouille is for it to look pretty.

Season the tomato mix generously with salt and pepper. I used kosher salt & fresh cracked black pepper because they really just make everything better. If you are a serious pepper fanatic like my husband (you should see it when he makes fried eggs) then you must invest in a pepper grinder.

I am so glad my mother gave me these grinders for my birthday--between those & the camera, easily the best birthday ever.

Now the base is prepared! Next you gotta get slicing on those vegetables!

For this recipe, I used 1 eggplant (they say to try to get an Italian eggplant, which is a little smaller. I just used a normal one and threw a little part of it away because I seriously have no idea what else can be made with that thing), the equivalent to 1 smallish yellow squash & 1 smallish zucchini, and 1 red bell pepper. In reality, the vegetables we got from Owen's parent's garden were HUGE so I just cut up enough slices that I thought would fit in the pan. In my mind, it's better to cut less than you think may fit because you can always cut up more afterwards if you have more space (like I did) than to have awkwardly thinly sliced vegetables left over.

Cutting the vegetables as thin as possible is THE KEY! Seriously, it is the most important part for this to be a success.

Here's how thin mine were. Yeah I'm pretty proud. Except the red pepper was kind of hard to slice thinly. But take your time and have patience, because it really truly does make all the difference.

If you are super cool like the girl from Smitten Kitchen, then you can use a mandoline to slice them thinly, which would probably be easier. But I don't have one of them, and like my dad always said, "Why do I need another thing in the kitchen that does what a knife can do?" Okay I don't know if he ever actually said that, but that was how he felt. So a normal (sharp) knife will work fine, but if you want to justify your mandoline purchase, then this is the perfect recipe for you.

Look at all those pretty vegetables--yay! My eggplant got kind of oxidized which I was worried about, but it ended up fine. Now comes the fun part! I will use Deb's words because they are just so perfectly stated:

Atop the tomato sauce, arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables.

Aww yeah. This is fun. I went with an eggplant-squash-zucchini-pepper pattern because I thought the colors contrasted nicely this way, but you can have fun with it however you like!

Once the vegetables are all arranged (don't stack any on top of each other!), drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil on top, and season generously again with salt & pepper.

Then the recipe says to add fresh thyme on top of the ratatouille, but since it was ridiculously expensive at Macey's, I just went with the good ol' stand-by Italian Seasoning to go on top. That stuff is just so versatile.

Next is the hardest part. You have to cut out wax paper to fit on top of your ratatouille. I was silly and went with a pretty shaped dish, which made it harder to fit, but I developed a technique that made it way easier if you've got an extra set of hands around. Have your husband (or other helper) hold the wax paper flat while you trace with a Sharpie around the outside of the dish, then just take it off and cut it out and then place it on top! Easy peasy.

You're technically supposed to use parchment paper to cover the ratatouille, but it's way more expensive and does the exact same thing as wax paper, so I've never bought if before. But if you have parchment paper on hand, feel free to use this instead.

The wax paper is vital because it will keep the vegetables from browning, but will allow them to cook through until the juices are released.

Cook in ze oven for 45-55 minutes. When it comes out, the vegetables should be visible cooked, but not totally floppy, and the tomato sauce should be bubbling up between the vegetables.

Just like this! YAY! It looks so awesome! I hope you are admiring how very quite thinly those vegetables were sliced, just like I am right now.

Then serve on top of polenta (shown above) or couscous or some other grain of your choice, or with some French bread. Deb from Smitten Kitchen also recommended serving it with a dollop of goat cheese on top, which sounded divine, but when I went to Macey's, this is what happened:

Me: (to the employee unloading cheese into the aisle) Umm, excuse me, do you have any goat cheese?
Guy: Uh, what's that?
Me: (awkward, dumbfounded silence)
Me: Well, it's cheese, but made from goats instead of cows.
Guy: Can you tell me what it looks like?
Me: So, it looks like cheese, and it's white, and kind of spreadable...

Needless to say, they didn't have any. So I settled for feta atop my masterpiece instead, which was still pretty good.

And there it is! You survived this wickedly long post and now know how to make ratatouille. And here is the best part of all--we actually liked it! I was really surprised because I don't like eggplant or red bell peppers at all, and am not even the hugest zucchini fan, but somehow when they all came together in that thinly sliced bite...it was delicious! What a pleasant shock!

I was seriously this guy.

Here's the recipe in a condensed form, lifted straight from Smitten Kitchen. For my alterations, read above.

Ratatouille’s Ratatouille
As envisioned by Smitten Kitchen

1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 cup tomato puree (such as Pomi)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small eggplant (my store sells these “Italian Eggplant” that are less than half the size of regular ones; it worked perfectly)
1 smallish zucchini
1 smallish yellow squash
1 longish red bell pepper
Few sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Few tablespoons soft goat cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Pour tomato puree into bottom of an oval baking dish, approximately 10 inches across the long way. Drop the sliced garlic cloves and chopped onion into the sauce, stir in one tablespoon of the olive oil and season the sauce generously with salt and pepper.
Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. As carefully as you can, trim the ends off the red pepper and remove the core, leaving the edges intact, like a tube.
On a mandoline, adjustable-blade slicer or with a very sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick.
Atop the tomato sauce, arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. You may have a handful leftover that do not fit.
Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs with your fingertips, running them down the stem. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish.
Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside. (Tricky, I know, but the hardest thing about this.)
Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked, but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. They should not be brown at the edges, and you should see that the tomato sauce is bubbling up around them.
Serve with a dab of soft goat cheese on top, alone, or with some crusty French bread, atop polenta, couscous, or your choice of grain.


1 comment:

  1. Your ratatouille looks quite impressive! I'm sure it looks better than it tastes--no offense to your cooking skills--just my passionate distaste of eggplant. But you did make it look as good as it possibly could. Bon appetit!