Friday 17 August 2007
Follow the yellow (well, and green, and red, and white, and black) brick (hmm veggie) road – Ratatouille au four
It seems that my fondness for wow-this-is-way-too-long post titles is utterly related to the fascination I had, as a child, for French longest word – anticonstitutionnellement.
I was indeed obsessed with dictionaries; which I would read like any other book. This had multiple effects on my grown-up life: I am now very good in orthographe and synonymes. However, there are side effects; the always-too-long-to-be-true titles being one of them. But well, that’s another story – I don’t want you to think of me as a bookworm (I love this word, though).
Other things have partially contributed to what I am now. Food, just as music, books or movies, is simply part of it.
I can sing every single song from the Wizard of Oz or make a ratatouille from scratch. This is me, the real me.
Further than just being able to sing or cook, this precise song-recipe has made me. I mean, I am Dorothy, I love simple food that highlights high-quality ingredients, and I rave about “children’s” movies.
Luckily, I have a little sister, which gives me the perfect excuse to fully enjoy childhood treasured secrets – la balançoire, les dessins animés, les goûters…
As you can imagine, I am the best big sister ever: I take Aïda (hasn’t she a lovely name?) everywhere she wants me to and we have more fun than it’s possible to have.
A couple of weeks ago, just a few days after the movie Rataouille had been released, we went to the theatre. I cried, she cried; I laughed, she laughed; I squeaked, she squeaked.
Regarde leur petits nez trop sweet! [Look at their sweet little noses!] – Oh well, yes, we’re part of those people who talk during movies. You know, the annoying ones.
When the movie was finished, she just told me one thing thing: ‘oh mais Fanny, c’est toi Rémi’ [but, Fanny, you are Rémi]. I couldn’t be happier – I was a rat with a small but sweet nose, who loves cooking. Minus the rat part, the description fitted.
I’m not good a critic, but I urge you to see this movie if you haven’t already – the story is beautiful and will make you feel super-good. You might experience the need to make ratatouille, whish I also encourage you to.
Where I live, ratatouille is considered staple food – every single person knows how to produce a succulent one. This is no coincidence: ratatouille comes from Nice, where every family has its own recipe: whether it’s a torn piece of paper, a beautifully handwritten notebook or just memories, la ratatouïa nissarda is definitely a precise combination of the best vegetables available.
According to Jacques Médecin, ratatouille is a time-consuming and difficult dish to prepare. It requires knowledge and precision. Yet, I love to make it, usually in big batches as it keeps very well for a week (it is actually even better the day after it is made).
I always make it following the traditional version – the one my mum taught me. However, when I noticed Rémi’s way of making ratatouille, I fell in love – not only it looked extra-pretty but it seemed to be delicious.
I guess I wasn’t the only one to rush to the farmer’s market, – with ratatouille my mind -, after having seen the movie.
Ratatouille au four
Inspired by Thomas Keller’s Confit Byaldi
It can appear wrong to call this dish a ratatouille: a tian, a gratin or a confit would be more appropriate; but I deliberately did so.
Although it is not made the way traditional ratatouille is, it has the exact taste and texture of correctly made ratatouïa nissarda.
I got my inspiration from the movie, which is obvious, but also from Thomas Keller, who allegedly created the dish for the movie.
I did keep the basic element of the recipe: a layer of fragrant tomato sauce (wasn’t that excited with the piperade option suggested by Thomas) and a layer of finely sliced summer vegetables.
The tomato sauce I came up with was utterly delicious and is now my favourite tomato-sauce recipe, the one I’ll be using from now on. I used Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes for their sweetness and their great flesh/seed ratio (as I’m not the type of person who removes every single pip although I know that seeds make the sauce bitter, I always go for the tomatoes that contain the less seeds).
For the vegetables layer, I chose to use tomatoes, onions, aubergines, red peppers and courgettes (both green and yellow, for appeal and taste). I finely sliced them with my favourite sharp knife and got satisfying results. It is certain that a mandolin would have yield to more consistent slices, but I was and am happy with a rougher thus less standardised look.
You can arrange the slices as you want. I found this step to be relaxing and funny: ‘courgette-poivron-aubergine-jaune-tomate-oignon’, I would say aloud. I did have some leftover vegetable slices, which I threw into a baking dish, drizzled with olive oil, covered with baking parchment and foil, and baked along with the ‘pretty’ ratatouille. It made delicious roast/confit vegetables.
The very low oven temperature and long baking, give beautifully confit vegetables that still retain their shape and taste. I must say that this recipe is now an absolute favourite. Actually, it might even replace my usual method for ratatouille.
Ratatouille au four
for the tomato sauce
2 tbsp extra-virgin fruity olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, grated (fanny: I use my Microplane grater which does wonders)
1 medium white onion, finely sliced
750g Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes (approx. three big ones), peeled, seeded and diced
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 tbsp caster sugar
fleur de sel
for the vegetables
4 Roma tomato, sliced into very fine slices
1 green courgette, sliced into very fine slices
1 yellow courgette, sliced into very fine slices
2 small white onions, sliced into very fine slices
1 small aubergine, sliced into very fine slices
1 small red pepper, sliced into very fine slices
1 clove of garlic, grated
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
fleur de sel and pepper
Start by making the sauce: combine the oil, garlic and onion into a large heavy-bottomed pan over low heat until very soft, about ten minutes. Add the tomatoes, thyme, parsley and bay leaf and bring to the boil over medium heat. Mix in the sugar, reduce the heat and simmer until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Spread the sauce in the bottom of a 26cm skillet (or like I did, three small 16cm skillets).
Pre-heat the oven to 140°C.
Arrange the vegetable slices over the sauce until the pan is filled. Drizzle with the oil, sprinkle with the garlic and thyme, and season. Cut a round of baking paper to fit the tin and then cover with foil and crimp the edges to seal well.
Bake for 2 hours. Uncover and bake for a further 30 minutes.
You can eat it hot, warm or cold.