Ratatouille

October 18th, 2010 · French

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rat • a • too ee!

Does it look familiar to you? Tell me I am not the only person who never heard of this classic French dish, Ratatouille until the Pixar animated film came out back in 2007. And tell me I am also not the only person who is so inspired after watching that movie and want to replicate that beautiful dish - a dish that was so amazing that even the harsh food critic was lost for words. That's right, I dedicated my Saturday sourcing fresh seasonal ingredients from market and poured my heart and soul into making this beautiful dish, and here is my version of ratatouille as seen in the movie, or at least close enough.

Ratatouille is a traditional French Provencal stew vegetable dish, originating in Nice. It is usually served as a side dish or as meal with pasta or bread. There is much debate on how to make a traditional ratatouille. If you do a quick google search on this dish, you will see a lot of recipes that need no effort at all, simply chop everything in chunks and stew them into mush, that's the traditional way of making ratatouille. Then there is the "layering approach" as seen in the film, by slicing all vegetable thinly then baked in an oven before mixing the tomato sauce in. I know which one I'd go for.

According to Black Napkin, Thomas Keller was actually a consultant for the movie, and Pixar's producer was interned at Thomas' restaraunt, The French Laundry, to design this beautiful kaleidoscope layered dish as seen in the film. You can go to Thomas' restaurant, Per Se, to try his version of the ratatouille that inspires the movie, or like me, make it yourself at home.

It is spring time right now in Australia and it couldn't be a better time to source the fresh seasonal ingredients to make this dish. I found the most challenging part to make this dish is to find ingredients that are in the same size. The eggplant in Australia is simply way too big to make this dish, but luckily I found the long baby eggplants. Courgette, or yellow zucchini, is another ingredient that is hard to come by in Australia. I substituted with beautiful yellow squash which works perfectly. The most important ingredient in this dish is the tomatoes. The common tomatoes in supermarket are way too big and tasteless, try to source a smaller version like roma tomatoes from farmers market which is a lot sweeter and the oblong shape is also the perfect size to go with other vegetable.

There are two important utensils that come in handy to make this dish - a mandoline slicer and a food presentation ring. As most of the ingredients I used are pretty small, so a mandoline slicer is a must to slice all the vegetable thinly. When serve, you will need a food presentation ring to form a circle of the baked vegetable that stays upright.

Taste wise, it is surprisingly delicious and I loved it! The flavour of this simple dish is all count on the fresh ingredients used. I baked the vegetable separately from the tomato puree sauce as I want to still be able to taste the umami of every single different kind of vegetable in the dish. I served it as an entree for our dinner and everyone was surprised to find themselves loving a vegetarian dish.

Is there a dish that will transport you straight back to your childhood?

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If you are interested in ATFT Food Photography Workshops, learn a few tips and tricks in lightroom and photoshop on how to make your photos stand out from the crowd, please join us at the workshop in Melbourne at St Ali on 27th November which includes a scrumptious lunch which is specially designed for the workshops.

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Ratatouille (serves 4)
Original recipe by A Table For Two
Ingredients 2 Roma tomatoes
2 zucchini
3 yellow squash
2 baby eggplants
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 onion
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 can chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method
1. Unless you have mad knife skills, if not, I'd advise to use an adjustable mandoline slicer. Slice zucchini, tomato, eggplant and squash thinly, approximately 2mm thickness.
Tips: Slice the eggplants last because they go oxidised quickly. Sprinkle and rub the lemon zest over eggplant to prevent it from oxidisation too much.

2. Arrange slices of prepared vegetables by overlapping in alternate colours as close and tightly as possible into a baking dish (I used two small rectangular baking dish). Fill the vegetables snuggly in the baking dish without too much open space, cover the extra space with extra vegetables.
Tips: To accentuate the colour of the vegetables, alternate between light and dark colour vegetables. eg, eggplant (dark), squash (light), zucchini (dark), tomato (light).

3. Preheat oven to 150C.

4. In a small saucepan, sauteed onion and garlic until soften. Add vegetable stock, cumin seeds, bay leaf and bring to boil. Strain the stock into a bowl.

5. Pour the stock into the baking dish about 1/2 full without covering the vegetables. Wrap the baking dishes in foil, place them on a baking tray and put in the oven for 1 hour.

6. While the dish is baking, now prepare the sauce. Pour the remaining stock along with all the vegetables in the strainer back into the saucepan. Add chopped tomato and bring to boil once more. Add salt and pepper to taste, then simmer until the stock reduced by half and becomes a thick sauce.
Once ready, discard bay leaf and set aside ready to be used.

7. After 1 hour, take the baking dish out of the oven, pour out the stock. Cover them back in foil, put the baking dish back in oven for another 15 minutes on 180C. Take it out of oven, let it cool a little before plating.

To Serve 1. Reheat the tomato sauce a little if it has gone too cold.

2. Use a small 2.5" food presentation ring, carefully lift a whole stack of cooked vegetables and place along the edge inside the food ring. Repeat until a full circle of vegetables is formed inside the food ring. If there is space in the middle, fill the space with more cooked vegetables to make sure the stack is steady and firm before lifting the food ring up.

3. Lift up the food ring, place a few more slices of vegetables on top of the stack.

4. Drizzle the tomato sauce on top of the stack and around the plate.

5. Place a stalk of chive on top of stack as garnish.