Long Reads

Alice Waters' Ratatouille

August 25, 2011

Every week, Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius. Today, with the help of Alice Waters, we're bringing ratatouille back to life, without all the fuss

Ratatouille Recipe

- Kristen

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It is a rare dish that inspires so much indignation -- so much ranting about tradition and propriety -- as ratatouille, that seemingly unassuming melange of late summer produce from the Provençal countryside.

And yet here I am, climbing out on a limb to tell you that Alice Waters makes a very, very good ratatouille -- maybe the best. Don't throw an eggplant at me just yet. Let me explain.

In the schools of ratatouille, at one end you'll find the disciples of the Julia Child method: Every vegetable must be cooked separately before they "partake of a brief communal simmer." The eggplants are cut into slim rectangles; the tomatoes are peeled, juiced and slivered; the bell peppers must be green. Then all are layered into a casserole and basted heroically. Make this one when you want to feel reverent and perfect.

Julia Child took these pains to ensure that every vegetable maintained its dignity, without melting into a muddy soup. But leave it to Alice Waters, longtime champion of vegetable TLC (Chez Panisse turns 40 this week), to show us such rigor isn't necessary. Somewhere between Julia Child's perfectionism and just giving up and dumping everything in the pot at once, there is a happy compromise.

The Art of Simple Food  Alice Waters

Waters' recipe only fusses where it needs to fuss -- over the eggplant, which does benefit from a brief time-out under a dousing of salt to draw out its moisture and bitterness. After a pat dry and browning session all its own, the eggplant behaves itself, turning sweet and bronzed with creamy flesh.

For the rest, Waters simply adds the vegetables to the pot one by one to build flavor, but because they're cut small (1/2 inch), they don't cook long and don't have a chance to inherit each other's idiosyncrasies.

A few smart, modern details pull this recipe further into the realm of genius: basil is delivered in two stages, via a bouquet that swishes along in the pot the whole time, and a smattering of fresh chopped leaves at the end. A pinch of red chile flakes sharpens the focus, and a finishing swirl of fresh olive oil pulls the sauce together. (The slideshow below shows how it all goes down.)

What you end up with is a humble stew, yes, but one that has every bit of integrity the summer harvest deserves. One that you can eat hot with fried eggs or spoon up cold onto torn hunks of bread. And one that you may now start boasting is the best way to make ratatouille -- because we can't always be Julia Child.

Ratatouille Recipe

Alice Waters' Ratatouille

Adapted slightly from The Art of Simple Food.

Serves 6 to 8. Note: All vegetables conveniently work out to about a pound in weight.

1 medium or 2 small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more to taste
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 to 6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 bunch of basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine + 6 basil leaves, chopped
Pinch dried chile flakes
2 sweet peppers, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 medium summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
Salt to taste

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Want more genius recipes? Try Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter or Ian Knauer's Sticky Balsamic Ribs.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom


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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


ajeanie August 24, 2017
Ratatouille is the perfect meal for me! If i get bored then i just tweak it up a bit. Love it. #ratatouillefreak
Drew May 18, 2016
I've been making ratatouille for years, and this is "best ever!" Could have been because I had super fresh vegetables from my CSA farm. I didn't feel a need to spice it up, but I probably used a bigger bunch of basil than was called for. Other recipes have included mushrooms and olives so I think I'll add that next time.
Kate September 24, 2015
Big Alice Waters fan, but I thought this was just okay :/ Parmesan on serving, and the addition of oil-cured olives and extra garlic help a lot.
Brodie W. August 17, 2014
I have been making a simplified version of this recipe once a week and have been loving it! My version changes the olive oil to ghee and adds crimini mushrooms, and sometimes spices it up with paprika and turmeric. I plan to share it with my patients who are looking for fast, healthy recipes (crediting you, of course!) --thanks!
MSteinhart September 7, 2011
I made this yesterday and it was scrumptious. My daughter couldn't get enough of it (she is a vegan so this is a great recipe for her). She had it on top of pasta. My husband and I had it as a side dish with chicken cutlets. I let the ratatouille sit in the pan for several hours before serving it, and the flavors melded together nicely. This recipe is a keeper!
yumbunny September 7, 2011
A favorite of mine is ratatouille Provencal, fewer veggies and inclines to mush, if I look away.
This description and all the "supporting documentation" is very engaging. Love the phrasing;
perhaps a basil mop will give rise to a 'ratatouille Mob"!
tbrozman August 31, 2011
Yum. Absolutely delicious. Better than the movie!
veggiepat August 28, 2011
I love ratatouille on soft, creamy polenta with a grating of cheese. My recipe is similar to this but I leave out the eggplant as I am not an eggplant fan.
mdonovan33 August 28, 2011
I made this last night and thought it was just great. The vegetables were perfectly cooked, soft without being mushy, and the basil bouquet added a nice, subtle flavor to the whole dish. I did use two kinds of tomatoes - a couple beefsteak, and one yellow heirloom. But otherwise, followed the recipe to the letter and really loved it!
marianne.bush August 25, 2011
I have found that roasting the vegetables together in the oven makes for a more flavorful dish.
marianne.bush August 25, 2011
Sorry about posting this twice. Didn't mean to.
marianne.bush August 25, 2011
I have found that roasting all the vegetables together in the oven make for a much more flavorful dish.
Waverly August 25, 2011
I am a fan of this recipe and have made every summer since this book came out. Thank you for sharing it here. I enjoyed your comments.
hardlikearmour August 25, 2011
This is just gorgeous, and once the prep is done it comes together so quickly! LOVE the slideshow!
AntoniaJames August 25, 2011
"The Art of Simple Food" is such a great cookbook -- one of the best published in the past few years -- and one we use a lot. So glad to see it getting some love here!! The method of using the bouquet of basil is one I've been using frequently of late, especially in dishes that call for mint or its mint-family cousins, oregano and marjoram. In the summer, or when it's sunny and very warm, those herbs, when just picked, are just too intense to use any other way. ;o)
Dr.Insomnia August 25, 2011
Made it last night. It was pretty good. Wasn't sure whether to peel any of the veggies. I did for the eggplant, and not for the squash, and it worked well. I hate tough eggplant skin. Also, those look like zuchs in your pic. Do summer squash come in green?
Kristen M. August 25, 2011
Good question -- zucchini is actually lumped in with other summer squash. It just happens to be the most popular member. Any kind of summer squash (zucchini, crookneck, pattypan) would work here. And we didn't peel anything, but that's up to you. Personally, I'm more irked by a seedy eggplant than the skin.
Bevi August 25, 2011
I have made Rat Julia's way, and I do admit to feeling reverent and perfect after the exercise. However, one does not have all day.

This recipe looks great - am off to the local veggie stand to embark on the AW version.
boulangere August 25, 2011
I'm thinking $5 dinner here.
Kristen M. August 25, 2011
Bevi -- perfectly said. Boulangere -- I do believe you're right! It should fall within the Slow Food 5 bucks a head challenge.
duclosbe1 August 25, 2011
Wow. I've been thinking about making ratatouille as the late summer produce starts showing up at my farmer's market. This is definitely the week to do it. Thanks!
Kristen M. August 25, 2011
You're welcome, forester_lady! Don't forget a fat, crusty loaf of bread too.
Sagegreen August 25, 2011
Kristen M. August 25, 2011
Thanks, Sagegreen!
Brette W. August 25, 2011
Loving that slideshow.
Kristen M. August 25, 2011
I couldn't keep photos that good under wraps.
Fairmount_market August 25, 2011
I was so excited to see this genius recipe because I've been obsessing about ratatouille lately. I came up with a version that roasts the components to bring out their flavors, then assembles them into what turns into a dense and flavorful tart: http://www.food52.com/recipes/14154_ratatouille_tart
Kristen M. August 25, 2011
Your tart sounds incredible. Love the idea of all those flavors condensed into one slim layer.