Ratatouille: The Dish And Movie

Jun 19, 2009 1:20 AM

by binsar

I watched Ratatouille the movie just recently. I know that it is already out in 2007 but time only permitted me to see it last month. The movie tells a story about Remy, the rat that dreams of becoming a chef. He then established a friendship with Linguini, a garbage boy at Gusteau’s restaurant, which used to be the best restaurant in Paris. Remy was able to cook by controlling the movement of Linguini by pulling his hair. Shortly, Linguini, who turned out to be the late Chef Guestau’s son and rightful owner of the restaurant, became famous because of his cooking and that attracts critics to try his cooking. Anton Ego, a famous critic, ordered a special meal as a challenge. Then Remy cooked Ratatouille for Ego, which turned out to be the best food he’d ever had.

Three days ago, as I was choosing the university canteen’s dinner menu, I stumbled upon a wonderful menu: Ratatouille. It was used as fusilli’s topping with fish as extra.  It looks a bit like the picture only with fish. I ate my dinner with delight and a big smile. It was a really good dinner, a 4,50 euro well spent!

I love the movie because I am a big fan of food and movies about food. So I did a little research about Ratatouille – the food and not the movie. The movie said that it was a peasant dish, and it was true. Wikipedia says that, “The word ratatouille comes from Occitan ratatolha. It is also used in French (touiller, also means to toss food). Ratatouille originated in the area around present day Occitan Provença (French: Provence) & Niça (French: Nice, Occitan: Niça); the Catalan“xamfaina” and the Majorcan “tombet” are versions of the same dish.” It was called a peasant dish because the simple way to prepare it is to saute all the ingridients together: Tomatoes (key ingredient), with garlic, onions, zucchini (courgettes), eggplant (aubergine), bell peppers (poivron), marjoram and basil, or bay leaf and thyme, or a mix of green herbs like herbes de Provence.

But the original Ratatouille was different from the one in the movie. So I did a further research and found out that Thomas Keller, an American chef,  invented a contemporary variation of it. He created Confit Byaldi as early as 1976. As food consultant to the Pixar film,Ratatouille, Keller, in a moment of inspiration, showed the right way to prepare it and fanned the vegetables in a high sculptural form with a palette knife.

I have the ambition to cook it one day. So, I looked up some recipes, and found something that I will use in the future, hopefully. I found the recipe here.

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.

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