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Ratatouille


If anyone could make the idea of a rat in kitchen an endearing concept, it would have to be Disney.  As long as you didn’t get stuck on the notion of rodents around gourmet food, Ratatouille was a charmingly delightful film that inspired cuisine-challenged people such as myself to seek out what exactly was the title dish.

Ratatouille Niçoise is a traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish originating from Nice.  The dish consists of succulent Mediterranean vegetables, such as tomatoes, garlic, onions, courgettes (zucchini), aubergines (eggplant), capsicum (bell peppers), and herbs.  Apparently there is a debate on how traditionally ratatouille was cooked, but it seems most “proper” methods entail sautéing each of the vegetables separately so that they retain their own shape and then tossing them all together (touiller means “to toss food” in French).  Julia Child goes a step further and layers each of the cooked vegetables in a casserole dish to let them “partake of a brief communal simmer.”

It always seemed like a whole lot of effort for such a simple dish, but if the little rat chef Remy could do it (despite his fictional status), I suppose I could give it a whirl.  However, AllRecipes.com came to rescue of my lazy self and proposed a lovely baked casserole alternative.  I only sauteed the veggies that take longer to cook in general (garlic, onions, and eggplant) and then layered the other vegetables on top before baking the entire casserole in the oven.  In this layering fashion, the vegetables were able to retain their shape and still be cooked thoroughly to make for an excellent stew.  The only time consuming aspect that is left really is chopping up all the vegetables.

This hearty vegetable stew can be enjoyed as a main dish, or as a healthy accompaniment to a plain roasted meat dish.  Or if you are craving some carbs as I was after eating this stew for a couple days, you can serve with rice or even toss it with some penne pasta and transform the stew into a refreshing vegetarian pasta dish.

Ratatouille (adapted from Lynette Marie)

Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 tsp dried parsley (or Herbs de Provence)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/4 C white wine
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 C grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 1 yellow squash, sliced
  • 2 C sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat bottom and sides of a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish with 1 T olive oil.

Heat remaining 1 T olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Sauté garlic and onions until lightly browned. Mix in parsley, red pepper flakes, and eggplant.   Add the white wine and sauté until eggplant is soft, about 10 minutes.  Season with salt to taste.

Spread eggplant mixture evenly across bottom of prepared casserole dish.  Sprinkle with a few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.

Spread zucchini and yellow squash slices in an even layer over top.  Lightly salt and sprinkle with a little more cheese.

Continue layering in this fashion, with mushrooms, bell pepper, and tomatoes, covering each layer with a light sprinkling of salt and cheese.  Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes.

Enjoy as a main dish on its own or as a side to your favorite meat dish, or even try tossing with some penne pasta!


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