Though I haven’t watched the movie yet, I decided to take a crack at the title meal, ratatouille. Summer may be the finest time of year for such a dish because of the bounty of fresh vegetables available locally.
Ratatouille traces its origins to Nice, France. I am told that it was popular among lower classes. The absence of meat, cheese and cream as key ingredients seems to attest to this fact, though in my opinion, it tasted like a million bucks.
To start with ratatouille, we start with vegetables. The critical ingredient that makes ratatouille is eggplant. Take a pound to pound-and-a-half eggplant and scrub it clean. Chop the ends from it and dice it, skin and all, into three-quarter inch cubes. I checked with my favorite culinary consultant in the world and she said that eggplant need not be salted if the skin is shiny. I decided my eggplant looked kind of dull, so I dusted it with a tablespoon of sea salt, and mixed it well. She said that the salt removes bitterness. After a half hour, I rinsed the eggplant clean, removing the salt.
To start our favorite five-quart pot, dice a large yellow onion and sauté it in two tablespoons of good quality extra-virgin olive oil. Add two tablespoons of minced garlic and two green bell peppers, cut into strips, with the onions and cook until the onions turn translucent. Add the eggplant and stir well. Then add a half-pound of sliced white mushrooms, and top them with a little salt. Again give it a stir and cook with the lid on for 10 minutes.
The second key ingredient to ratatouille has to be squash. Peel and thinly slice a pound of zucchini and an equal amount of yellow squash and add it to the mixture. Cut four large, ripe tomatoes into eighths and add them to the pot. To season, add one bay leaf, a teaspoon of basil, a half-teaspoon of oregano and a quarter teaspoon of thyme. A tablespoon of dried parsley adds more color than anything else, but still looks festive, and provides some extra savory flavor. If you like pepper, as I do, add a teaspoon of crushed black pepper. I added another two tablespoons of olive oil to the pot. One hint I heard of was adding tomato juice to the pot. Personally, I think the vegetables would have provided enough broth, but I did add about a quarter of a cup. I may omit that next time.
Again cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour. Stir frequently to allow the flavors to meet and mix completely. When it’s done, ratatouille has the consistency of a stew, and a flavor that is as unique as it is delicious.
I served the ratatouille over a bed of steamed brown rice. Originally, I bought a baguette to serve with the food, but found a can of biscuits in the refrigerator. I topped them with butter, herbs and Parmesan cheese before baking them. Yes, it was a short cut, but they tasted all right. Top the ratatouille with some more fresh Parmesan cheese and serve warm.
Hawkins and I were joined by his old friend Phil Barbie. Though I wondered about Phil’s sense of direction at first, he proved to be a great new friend, and a talented guitar player. Dinner started with several servings of ratatouille. After we ate, Hawkins and Phil went to see the Simpsons movie. I was tired that night and retired early. On Sunday, I planned to join Hawkins for our usual leftovers, and episodes of Entourage and Flight of the Conchords. It seems that after returning from the movies, and during the blackout, the two Ratatouille Rascals cleaned me out. Remind me to make a larger pot next time. Even with pilfered leftovers, a good time was had by all. Good eating.