Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ratatouille's Ratatouille in the spirit of traditional French Ratatouille.

Ratatouille is a common vegetable stew that originated from southern France, mainly from the region around Nice (Provence) and so the traditional version is called ratatouille niçoise in France. It comes from the Occitan word ratatolha which means a roughly made stirred stew and was first used around the 1770s to indicate any simple and rapid vegetable stew. The Provencal version resembles another Provencal dish, the bohémienne which is made only with tomatoes, egg plants and olive oil. The traditional French version simply is a stew with egg-plants, bell peppers, zucchini and tomatoes aromatized by a combination of herbs called the Herbes de Provence. I did an original Ratatouille a couple of years ago and you can find the rough recipe here.

There is traditionally no particular cooking method for the ratatouille. One can either mix all the vegetables together like in a stew or cook them separately and then arrange them together. Famous French chefs like Roger Vergé or Gui Gedda (known as the Pope of Provencal Cuisine) recommend lightly frying each vegetable separately (and the bell peppers on a grill) to give them a crispy and toasty flavor. Present day chefs like Joel Robuchon has another method in which he prepares a tomato gravy and fries separately the zucchini and egg plants and then mixes them together in a pan. However the basic idea remains the same, which is simply to fry separately the vegetables (at least the zucchini and egg plants) so that they retain their own flavor and has a slight crunchy effect in the final stew. 

So this was about Ratatouille, the French dish. Now let me come to that which made this Provencal dish international and generated the craze around this lesser known rustic dish. It was Ratatouille, the Pixar animated film. In the film, right at the climax, the little chef, Remy the rat, prepared the celebrated version of this simple dish to impress the food critic, Anton Ego. The dish in reality was a version of another similar dish called the confit byaldi developed by French chef Michel Guérard (founder of nouvelle cuisine) in 1976. For the film it was realized by American chef Thomas Keller who was the food consultant for the film. As the story goes Brad Lewis, the producer of the film, asked Keller how he would cook ratatouille if the most famous food critic in the world were to visit his restaurant and Keller took out a page from his 1999 cookbook, The French Laundry Cookbook which was his style of Confit Byaldi. Thus Ratatouille’s Ratatouille or Remy’s Ratatouille was created and it in turn made this Provencal dish world renowned. 
Image result for ratatouille film paris
However Keller’s version (or Guerard’s confit byaldi) would miss out on the main idea of ratatouille, its crispness and the fact that each vegetable retain their own particular flavor. This is because it is made by arranging finely chopped vegetables (original ratatouille has roughly cut vegetables) on a baking tray and then baking them for a long time in an oven and thus each vegetable loses its uniqueness. In fact Guerard never tried to enhance the taste of the ratatouille; he and his nouvelle cuisine back in the 1970s were trying to develop quicker, hassle free but good looking dishes, sacrificing on taste and texture. Thus Remy’s ratatouille though looks marvelous; it will ever in reality be able to impress “the most famous food critic in the world”. 
Image result for ratatouille ratatouille
Now let me come to my innovation. To retain the taste of the original ratatouille, we must fry the vegetables separately. However to impress Anton Ego and the viewers, it is better to finely chop the vegetables and arrange them in a pattern on a baking tray. So why not combine both the approaches, the French and the American. Thus the dish would retain its French originality and would look worthy of an animated Pixar film based on French food. So I came up with this recipe where I first fried the vegetables separately, then arranged them on a tray and then added my own combination of herbs and the herbes de Provence. The dish looks perfect, tastes like the traditional ones and is a healthy dose of all the vitamins and minerals that one may need. 

Ingredients

Zucchini : 2
Egg Plants: 1
Bell Peppers : 2
Garlic : 6 cloves
Onion (yellow): 1
Tomatoes : 6 
Tomato Puree: 250 grams
Dried Herbes de Provence (combination of marjoram, thym, satureja, rosemary and basil) I got it from a morning market in the Provençal capital, Marseilles. You can however mix each separately, each in equal parts : 3 teaspoons  
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 9 tablespoon
Fresh Thyme: 15 strands
Fresh Bay Leaves: 10
Salt: to taste
Freshly Ground Pepper: 1 teaspoon

Procedures

Chop the eggplant and zucchini in thin slices as shown in the picture. 

Take a flat non-stick pan and shallow fry the eggplant for 1 minute at medium heat.

Change the side and keep for another minute.

Remove them from the heat and keep aside. Do not fry too much because they will be cooked later in the oven. 

Do the same for the zucchinis (shallow fry for a couple of minutes).

Chop the bell peppers in circular rings (discard the seeds and the central portion).

Shallow fry them in the similar way as the zucchini and eggplants. 

Finely chop the onion and the garlic. 

Pour 1 tablespoon oil on the a frying pan. When it is warm, add the chopped onion and garlic. Season it with salt and pepper. 

Fry them till they turn golden brown in color. 

Chop the tomatoes in thin circular slices.

Take the fried onion and garlic in a bowl. Pour the tomato puree on it.

Add 2 teaspoons of Herbes de Provence.

Stir and mix well with a spatula. 

Oil a nonstick deep bottomed baking pan.

Pour the prepared mixture (onion, garlic, tomato puree, herbes de Provence) into the baking pan.

Place about 8 strands of fresh thyme and 3 bay leaves.

Arrange the fried vegetables and the tomatoes in a circular spiral pattern.

The arrangement is shown below.

Place the rest of the fresh thyme strands and the bay leaves on the top and the sides of the vegetables.

Sprinkle 1 table spoon of Herbes de Provence on the vegetables.

Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil on the vegetables.

Season with salt and pepper.

The final preparation before entering the oven looks like this.

Cover it with a butter paper so that the vegetables do not get charred. 

Place it in a preheated oven for 40 minutes at 180°C. 

After 40 minutes, take it out, remove the butter paper and place it back for 10 minutes at 180°C.

The Ratatouille’s Ratatouille cooked in the way of traditional French Ratatouille is ready.


  
Printable Recipe


Ratatouille's Ratatouille

Calories per serving: 180 kcal

Ratatouille is a common vegetable stew that originated from southern France. Renowned French chefs recommend cooking each vegetable seperately. The popular version used in the Pixar animated film bakes the vegetables together but the final product looks attractive. Here is my original recipe combining both the attractive film's version and the more flavorsome traditional French version.

Ingredients:
  • Zucchini : 2
  • Egg Plants: 1
  • Bell Peppers : 2
  • Garlic : 6 cloves
  • Onion (yellow): 1
  • Tomatoes : 6
  • Tomato Puree: 250 grams
  • Dried Herbes de Provence: 3 teaspoons
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 9 tablespoon
  • Fresh Thyme: 15 strands
  • Fresh Bay Leaves: 10
  • Salt: to taste
  • Freshly Ground Pepper: 1 teaspoon
Instructions:
  1. Chop the eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers and tomatoes in thin round slices.
  2. Take a flat non-stick pan and shallow fry the eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers (not the tomatoes) for 1 minute each side at medium heat.
  3. Finely chop the onion and the garlic.
  4. Pour 1 tablespoon oil on the a frying pan. When it is warm, add the chopped onion and garlic. Season it with salt and pepper. Fry them till they turn golden brown in color.
  5. Take the fried onion and garlic in a bowl. Pour the tomato puree on it.Add 2 teaspoons of Herbes de Provence. Stir and mix well with a spatula.
  6. Oil a nonstick deep bottomed baking pan.Pour the prepared mixture (onion, garlic, tomato puree, herbes de Provence) into the baking pan.
  7. Place about 8 strands of fresh thyme and 3 bay leaves.
  8. Arrange the fried vegetables and the tomatoes in a circular spiral pattern.
  9. Place the rest of the fresh thyme strands and the bay leaves on the top and the sides of the vegetables.
  10. Sprinkle 1 table spoon of Herbes de Provence on the vegetables. Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil on the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper.
  11. Cover it with a butter paper so that the vegetables do not get charred. Place it in a preheated oven for 40 minutes at 180°C.
  12. After 40 minutes, take it out, remove the butter paper and place it back for 10 minutes at 180°C.

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