I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It’s all about balance.
Yesterday, I served you a heart attack on a bun and called it a burger. I have to admit that I used my healthy side of steamed broccoli to wipe up the cheese, chili, and egg yolk, which dripped from my burger. But, today I’m making up for it with a delicious, fresh spinach salad for lunch and a healthful dinner, chock full of vegetables and oozing with nutrition. That, and a nice long run should set us right back on track.
Months ago, while watching the Disney-Pixar movie, my son asked me to cook him ratatouille. Now, what mom is going to say no when their son requests a dish that is completely loaded with vegetables? Then I lost track of his request and the months went by, until last week, when I spotted the most irresistible package of vegetables at the supermarket.
Instantly, I knew I would be cooking eggplant very soon. I started running through my mental library of eggplant recipes. My first thought was Eggplant Parmesan, one of my favorite dishes, but it seemed sacrilege to cover those beautiful baby eggplants with bread crumbs. That’s when I remembered the pending ratatouille request.
In the big climax of the movie, Ratatouille, little chef Remy, decides to serve a dish of ratatouille to the most discriminating food critic, Anton Ego. Chef Collette is appalled. But, it is a peasant dish, she exclaims. Remy astounds everyone by transforming this traditional Provencal stewed vegetable dish into something elegant and mouthwatering, which pulls Ego back in time to warm memories of his childhood. The culinary genius of a mouse saves the restaurant with his comfort food makeover.
The real-life chef mastermind behind Remy’s ratatouille is famed chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry in Napa. For the film, he designed a layered version of ratatouille inspired by the Turkish dish, Confit Byaldi; same flavor profile of a traditional ratatouille, same slow-cooked flavor, prettier presentation. In his version, a pipérade of roasted peppers, onions, and garlic is spread in a baking dish, topped with layers of fresh eggplant, tomatoes, and squash, then slow cooked until the vegetables are tender and sweet. The final dish is topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette.
Inspired by that package of beautiful eggplant, I decided that we would make Keller’s version of ratatouille. I told my son that we were going to make a fancy ratatouille, just like in the movie. His response was, I don’t want to make a fancy ratatouille! I want to make a smiley-face ratatouille! Where in the world does he get this stuff?? Anyway, we met in the middle with both a fancy and a smiley faced ratatouille. We’re serving our ratatouille with balsamic vinaigrette marinated, broiled fillets of salmon.
For the complete recipe, as published a few years ago in the New York Times, click here.
Here’s what we did…
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut a red, yellow, and orange bell pepper in half. Remove ribs and seeds. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice up some baby eggplant, plum tomatoes, and yellow squash.
When the peppers have finished roasting, place them in a ziploc bag or cover with plastic wrap. This will help the skins to separate as they cool. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the peppers. Chop into small pieces. Turn the oven heat down to 275 degrees.
In a pan, heat a little olive oil. Cook a chopped onion until softened. Add minced garlic and thyme. Cook a few minutes more.
Add the chopped peppers, cook for a few more minutes. This your pipérade. Spread the pipérade in an even layer on the bottom of a baking dish.
Arrange the sliced vegetables in an overlapping pattern on top of the pipérade.
The kids worked on their smiley-face version of ratatouille.
Drizzle a mixture of olive oil, minced garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper over the vegetables.
Cover with foil and bake in a 275 degrees oven for 2 hours. Remove the foil and cook for 30 minutes more.
**If you have leftover sliced vegetables, toss them in a bit of the oil and garlic and arrange them on a baking sheet. Place them in the oven for about 45 minutes. You’ll have some delicious roasted vegetables, which make great roasted veggie sandwiches with a bit of fresh mozzarella.
This dish is best made a day ahead of time and reheated in the oven before serving. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette and enjoy.
The kids enjoyed tasting their smiley-faced ratatouille.