Friday, August 17, 2012

A Tribute to Julia Child's Ratatouille

Ratatouille = Summer!


SPOILER ALERT! If you didn't watch The Chew episode yet, don't read on!

So, you all know by now that I didn't get the chance to cook Julia Child's Ratatouille on TV as The Chew's Ultimate Julia Child Fan -- but don't be sad. Michael Symon pointed out my petite-ness to millions of viewers (and I apparently responded with "Thank you!"????) and I got the chance to be on a real-live national TV show about cooking! It was so amazing to be a part of such a special episode -- Julia Child's presence was definitely felt on the set that day (she used to film in the same studio). It's an experience I'll never forget, for sure. 
Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC
But, I didn't get to cook my dish on the show, so I wanted to share it with you. Ratatouille is truly summer on a plate. It's great all year, but it's even better in the summer, when farmer's markets and gardens are filled with eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers bursting with freshness and flavor.  It's also one of those rare Julia Child dishes that doesn't include butter, cream or bacon -- so you can have an extra glass of wine or another helping of dessert when you serve it.

Ratatouille is also extremely versatile. It can be eaten hot or cold and is even better the second day. You can make it on Sunday and eat it all week. Serve it with grilled meat, eat a big bowl of it with some crusty bread. Smother it on pizza and top with goat cheese. Toss with pasta and some fresh ricotta. Or, even make Mediterranean tacos by combining Ratatouille, grilled shrimp and feta.  The possibilities are endless!

There are lots of Ratatouille recipes out there, but the traditional French way is the best by far. Sure, it takes some time and extra work, but by cooking each ingredient separately, they each get their time to shine before the final communal simmer that turns everyday vegetables into something rich and decadent.

I've adapted Julia Child's Ratatouille Recipe (from Mastering the Art of French Cooking) below.  Try it and put it in your rotation of dishes that impress. Because it will.

RATATOUILLE A LA GOURMESS

1lb firm eggplant
1lb zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1-2 TBS more, as needed
1-2  yellow onions, thinly sliced
2-3 green peppers (or a mix of red, yellow and green), peeled, stems and core removed, sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1-2 tsp. Herbes de Provence
Ground black pepper (2-3 twists)
4-5 tomatoes, peeled*, cored, seeded and juiced, then sliced about 1/2" thick. (Reserve 1/2 cup of tomatoes and 1-2 TBS of the juice.)
1-2 TBS fresh parsley or basil, chopped

*Note, an easy way to peel tomatoes is to lightly cut an "X" in the bottom of the tomato, then drop it in boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove and place in cold water bath for a few seconds more. Dry it off and the skin should peel off easily from the "X" point.

1) Peel eggplant, cut off stem end, and slice lengthwise into uniform pieces (try 3" long x 1" wide by a little less than 1/2" thick  -- you don't want them to be bulky and oversized, but you want them substantial enough to not disintegrate while you're browning them). Do the same to the zucchini (be sure to scrub it clean), but do not peel. Take sliced eggplant and zucchini and toss in bowl with salt and then transfer to colander and let sit for at least 20 minutes to get rid of excess water. Pat dry. (Doing this will make browning easier.)

2) Heat the olive oil in large skillet and sauté eggplant and zucchini in batches, about 1-2 mins. per side, until lightly browned, but still firm. Remove from heat, set aside on paper towels.

3) Using same pan, adding more olive oil (1-2 TBS) if needed, slowly cook the sliced onions and peppers until tender, about 10 mins.  Do not let brown. Gently stir in garlic and Herbes de Provence and season with salt and pepper.

4) Add sliced tomatoes (minus the 1/2 cup reserved) to onion mixture and season them with salt. Cover pan and cook on low heat until tomatoes start to release juice. Remove lid, raise heat and let juices bubble and boil (tilt pan and spoon any excess liquid over the veggies) until mostly evaporated. Remove pan from heat.


5) Spoon 1/3 of the tomato/onion mixture into the bottom of the casserole then top with a layer of 1/2 of the zucchini and eggplant (set aside 4 nice-looking pieces of each) and continue layering, ending with the tomato/onion mixture. Top with the reserved eggplant and zucchini slices and the 1/2 cup of reserved sliced tomato. Add 1-2 TBS of the reserved tomato juice and sprinkle salt on top.

6) Cover and simmer for 10 mins. on low heat. Uncover, raise heat slightly (be careful not to let veggies on the bottom of pan burn) and cook for another 15 mins. or so, tilting pan throughout to spoon up juices and baste veggies. Adjust seasoning if needed. Ratatouille is done when liquid has mostly evaporated and only a few spoonfuls of the lovely juices remain.

7) Remove from heat and set aside uncovered. Serve hot, warm or cold, sprinkle with parsley or basil. It's even better the next day, too. And, it's not too shabby to look at, either. (I filled a pastry mold in the center of a plate for this presentation.)

Note: I prefer to serve with fresh-baked, crusty, toasted bread spread with goat cheese. And, for a quick pizza night, I take dough bought from my local pizzeria, form it into a circle on a floured surface, then spread it with a couple TBS of tomato sauce, top with Ratatouille and crumbled goat cheese and bake at 500 degrees until browned and bubbly. Finish with a sprinkle of basil or parsley. Yum!

Bon Appétit!
xoxo



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