This past Wednesday when my mom was in town, I offered to make dinner for her and my grandparents. I decided to make the Ratatouille from the movie of the same name. I used the recipe and the serving suggestion from Smitten Kitchen, although when she mentioned the recipe (known here as Confit Byaldi) created for the movie by the French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley, I checked it out and decided to use a few tips from there as well in order to make it more "authentic." In the end, it was very rewarding (and delicious), but I have some suggestions/comments/tips for all of you "real" people who might not have the fancy equipment, etc that Smitten has, nor the time and patience for the French Laundry version.
Ratatouille from Ratatouille
adapted from Smitten Kitchen, with tips from French Laundry and my own revisions
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 cup tomato puree (I used canned organic tomato "sauce," so I'm sure anything similar to puree will do)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small eggplant (Smitten said her store carries “Italian Eggplant” that are less than half the size of regular ones and thus perfect; I got my produce at the Sunflower Market and they only had the regular kind, so my eggplant slices were much larger than the rest of the vegetables, but it still tasted fine)
1 smallish zucchini
1 smallish yellow squash
1 longish red bell pepper (and/or a couple roma tomatoes...or regular tomatoes, but roma are generally thinner)
Few sprigs fresh thyme (sure wish they sold these in less than 500 sprigs)
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Pour tomato puree into bottom of an oval (or as close as you can get) 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. Note: Since I don't have a mandoline, I used the sharpest knife I could find, which was the last of 4 that I tried and was what I'm pretty sure is normally used as a bread knife. If you don't have a mandoline, try to find the sharpest knife you can and test it by first cutting the squashes, since they'll hold their shape even under a blunt knife. My slices were definitely not as thin as they should have been, but as long as your slices are as thin as you can get them, no worries. Also, cut the eggplant last! I cut it first because of the novelty of using eggplant for the first time, but it started to brown a little from exposure, sort of like an apple, which didn't effect the taste so far as I can tell, but it was a bit worrisome.
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. Note: I used a red bell pepper and one tomato because there were not enough slices of pepper to finish the whole pan. The tomato I used as the red slice when I ran out of pepper and nobody seemed to mind.
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. Note: Again, it seems easier said than done. The thyme took a long time to distribute because the tiny, fragile branches kept snapping under my eager pluck. Be patient and don't short yourself, because the thyme really does make the meal tastier.
Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside. Note: If you don't have parchment paper, don't worry. French Laundry used tin foil anyway, so go ahead and put a piece of foil gently pressed over the pan and it will be fine.
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.
Smitten Kitchen says: 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. I served it atop lots of couscous only. It would have been good with some cheese though, or even with french bread on the side.
Smitten also says this recipe serves 4 as a side and 2 as a main dish. However, with plenty of couscous (I made two Near East boxes), it served four of us just fine as a main dish, with room left for pie.