Tell me I’m not alone in this: You saw Ratatouille, fell in love with Remy (though you still jumped a foot in the air when you saw a significantly less-charming rodent scamper across your path on the way home) and found yourself with a pressing craving, not for the heavy and too-often soggy traditional Provençal ratatouille, but that kaleidoscope of spiraled colors they served to the haughty and (spoiler!) soon-humbled restaurant critic.
I can’t believe how well this worked out. I also can’t believe I cooked a cartoon dish created by an imaginary rat. But I can believe I’ll be making this again tomorrow, because it’s delicious, seasonal, and an incredible cinch to make.
We’re just getting to the point in the summer where all of the vegetables are readying themselves for their farmers’ market close-up, so the timing couldn’t be better. And aside from some needling parchment paper origami and fine-slicing of vegetables (which, as we well know, with my new BFF is frighteningly easy, although the rankings are more like Deb’s thumbnail: 0, Mandoline: 1 right now), you need a minimum of dishes and time to get this together. Not bad for something showy enough for a dinner party ta-da, right?
There are a lot of things not traditional about this version of ratatouille–the lack of herbes de province, that it’s baked and that we ate it with both couscous and a dollop of soft goat cheese–but if you’re like me, and the chunkier authentic stuff has never done it for you, it’s time for this re-creation.
And here is where I will introduce you to d’oh!-moment number two-thousand-seventy-four: Guess what the New York Times ran in their Dining section last month? The recipe for Thomas Keller’s Confit Byaldi, the accordion-fanned version of ratatouille used in the movie! It’s available on their website, looks gorgeous, but although it’s fairly simple for a French Laundry recipe, it’s a bit more involved than my recipe. Though I am sure I will try it one day, I’m almost glad I didn’t see it first as I might not have gone out on my own to find my layered ratatouille nirvana. And wasn’t that the whole theme of the movie in the first place?
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.