Ratatouille: a recipe and love story

Ah, Ratatouille, my first love.


Obviously I’m referring to Disney/Pixar’s 2007 CLASSIC film. After much deliberation I’ve discovered that it is, in fact, my favorite film of all time, so it comes as no surprise that I’ve made its namesake, the classic French stew, a summer tradition. Today I’m sharing (by special request) my recipe for this timeless vegetable dish, along with a little personal history regarding the inspired film.


I was 12 when I saw Ratatouille in theaters. At this time in my life, I had just discovered Rachael Ray’s cookbook for kids (we’re going way back here), and pretty much carried it with me everywhere. I was obsessed with cookbooks and recipes, and would imagine all the dinner parties that I still have yet to throw. So you can imagine how much a film about the transformative power of cooking hit 12-year-old me, who had brought a cookbook into the theater to read before the movie.


Another 12 years later and I’m still in love with this movie. It’s set in Paris, the music is beyond beautiful (the credit music is just jazz, friends), and the story is so unique and heartwarming, I will never turn down the chance to watch it again. And I’ve seen it a LOT. My family has learned over the years that Ratatouille-themed merchandise will always be a great gift idea, so now I’m stocked with accessories, an apron, several artistic renderings, and even a CHEESE BOARD. I even had “Le Festin” play at my wedding reception as we were cutting the cake.


It wasn’t until about 4 or 5 years ago, though, that I finally decided to make the famed dish that this incredible movie is named after. I started with Elizabeth Bard’s recipe from her book “Lunch in Paris”, making some substitutions and omissions here and there. Over time I’ve developed my own recipe, as well as a tradition of welcoming the official start of summer with the first pot of ratatouille. My own grandmother, an excellent cook, says my ratatouille is better than hers, so I’m pretty much just waiting for Bon Appétit to call and hire me.


So here’s how I make mine…

Ratatouille is essentially a stew of summer vegetables. Some people add red pepper, Elizabeth Bard even called for saffron, but I make mine with onion, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, and tomato. This dish is very simple, so the most important thing to consider is the quality of the produce. I love getting mine from local farmers markets in the summer, but one day I hope to grow them all in my own garden.


Since veggies come in all shapes and sizes, the measurements are a little squishy. Basically I just like to ensure that the amount of eggplant is a little bit higher than that of each of the squashes. You can really customize the amount of any batch of ratatouille just by the amount of your vegetables. In a pinch, I’ve even used a can of diced tomatoes to supplement a few leftover cherry tomatoes. Food is forgiving, just go with it.


Well on their way.

I like to add each vegetable separately, giving them time to cook down one at a time. The key with this dish is time. It's not at all difficult, but being patient with the veggies as they stew will mean a world of difference in the end.


So once you’ve collected your produce and your herbs, it’s time to pour a glass of wine and put on your vinyl double-album of the Ratatouille soundtrack and get started.

SUMMER RATATOUILLE


WHAT YOU’LL NEED:


-1 onion (white or yellow, preferably), sliced

-1 large eggplant or 2 smaller eggplants, sliced into half-moons

-1 large yellow squash, sliced into rounds or half-moons

-1 large zucchini, sliced into rounds or half-moons

-1 large tomato, a few smaller tomatoes, or even lots of cherry tomatoes, diced

-a few sprigs of fresh thyme, or about 1½ tsp dried thyme

-honey, about 1 tablespoon

-1 large handful fresh basil, roughly chopped (optional)


HERE WE GO:


Heat a dutch oven or deep sauté pan to medium high heat. Add a few tablespoons of oil to the pan and add the onion. Season with a little salt and pepper and sauté about 5-7 minutes or until the onions are soft and have developed a rich golden color. Add a little water to the pan every now and then if the onions start to stick or burn.


Stir in the eggplant and season with salt and pepper. Cook 5-7 minutes, adding a splash of water if needed, or until the flesh of the eggplant has softened and darkened. Repeat this step with the squash, and then the zucchini. Wait until each vegetable has softened and is fully fragrant before adding the next, and give just a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper with each addition.


Add the tomato and the thyme, along with one more sprinkle of salt. Cook 3-5 minutes, releasing and distributing the liquid from the tomato. Once all the vegetables are soft and combined, reduce heat to low and cover. Let stew for at least 10 minutes.


Uncover the stew and stir in a drizzle of honey. Add the chopped basil and remove the thyme sprigs, if desired.


Serve with warm crusty bread or with an egg (or both).


NOTES:


-Ratatouille tastes even better the next day, so making a big pot is a great way to ensure leftovers. It can also be eaten at basically any temperature, so it’s ideal for picnics.

-For a vegan option, sub the honey for cane sugar or coconut sugar.

-Can be served alone, as a side dish, pasta sauce, or over quinoa. Or directly out of the pan with a glass of wine, you choose.


I mean, come on.

Here’s a little extra music for your kitchen if you’ve exhausted the official Ratatouille soundtrack. It’s the area music that plays in the background of La Place de Rémy, a section of Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris. It’s the same beautiful pieces, just reorchestrated in new ways. It’s absolutely heavenly.


Here’s to the end of summer, friends, happy cooking!


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@2019 by Anna Perkins