VDP: Ratatouille

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A year or so ago Ratatouille was just another obscure French dish and very few would recognize what it is and what it is made of. Now, thanks to the lovely Pixar film of the same name, even my 5-year old knows that it’s a vegetables stew. The word stew immediately brings to mind winter months and tough cuts of meat braised for hours in the oven in wine and aromatics. Stews are comfort foods, rib sticking and ‘hearty’. Well, at least for me, that’s what the word stew implies.

Not Ratatouille though! It is cooked for a long time and it does contain white wine and aromatics, but it is first of all completely vegetarian. It is also summery, using those emblematic summer vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes). Last but not least, it is light and the only fat in there is olive oil. While it tastes fantastic the minute is ready, Ratatouille, like any stew worth its cooking wine is much better the next day. So, I made this the night before and gently reheated it for dinner on Thursday.

The recipe I used is another winning one from Paula wolfert’st “Mediterranean Grains and Greens” with some alteration to reduce the amount of olive oil (not cheap) and to save me some time and effort since I was cooking on a Wednesday night. My main deviation from her recipe is the prep that goes into the zucchini and eggplant. I skipped the step where they are salted and allowed to rest and I also did not deep-fry them in olive oil. Instead I tossed them with some olive oil and roasted at 450F in the oven until nice and browned, but not mushy. These are then cooked long and slow with herbs, lots of tomatoes, bell peppers and onions and a cup or so of white wine.

To serve it I made brown rice. The best way to make brown rice is to cook it in the oven. Alton Brown has a good recipe for that. It yields a soft and fluffy rice instead of a hard or gluey mess that you sometimes get when cooking brown rice. This can easily be eaten as is or with some crusty country bread.

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