Ratatouille Advice

What do you think is the "trick" if there is one, to good ratatouille? I've tried twice this week, and both times been kind of disappointed with my efforts. What's the best ratio of zucchini/eggplant/onion? How can you keep everything from going brown?



Big P. August 15, 2011
Ratatouille - what a great name! And, according to Wikipedia, its origin is in Occitan cuisine. Some dishes defy regimentation, so look to different recipes for ideas and then experiment to arrive at your own preferred style. My girlfriend likes it cooked to the mushy state and I enjoy it that way sometimes (omelets!). More often I brown the eggplant separately (after salting to extract some liquid), and then combine it with tomatoes and with zucchini, peppers, onions and garlic that I have cooked together briefly. I finish it in a casserole either in the oven or on a burner. Add capers if you are a fan.
CrewLunch August 8, 2011
I love ratatouille but to make it well takes time. Not only do I cook everything separately but you have to make sure there is enough space in the pan for the diced veggies to brown properly, otherwise they will 'stew' in their own juices. I saute the onion, garlic, squash and eggplant separately until caramelized then add them all together with canned or fresh tomatoes and then let them stew for a bit with a sprig of thyme. I omit peppers all together and the result is sweet and savory.
Bevi August 5, 2011
Mark Bittman has a roasted vegetable ratatouille recipe as well.
X August 5, 2011
Clotilde Dusoulier posted an extremely easy and delicious recipe for Ratatouille Confite au Four (oven roasted ratatouille) which I regularly prepare when my vegetable garden is producing lots of the required vegetables. It is quite different from the recipe in the Mathiot cookbook so I wanted to give you the link: http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2005/04/ovenroasted_ratatouille.php. The vegetables are placed in a baking dish, covered with foil and baked for 45 minutes. The foil is removed and the (now soft) vegetables are roasted uncovered for 30-45 minutes. I have doubled and tripled the recipe and made lots of vegetable substitutions, but the method always works well.
nogaga August 5, 2011
Adding half a cup of good red wine towards the end of cooking never hurts....
pierino August 5, 2011
I think the film "Ratatouille" was a hit in all the countries named.

Can't wait for the "Nimble Chairman" to open the box today and tell us what our secret ingredient is. Allez cuisine!!!!!!
amysarah August 5, 2011
Wow. Ratatouille is of course originally Provencal, but has long been made in endless variations all over France and beyond, from Paris to Paducah. For me, it's exactly the kind of non-formulaic dish where you can find a basic template - Julia Childs' or whichever you fancy - and then play with it to find your own groove, regardless of precise provenance.

I agree about green peppers - I always sub red/orange/yellow ones. Not textbook, but that's not my goal with ratatouille and green bell peppers are one of my only lifelong food aversions.

Btw, Piperade is also traditional on the French end of the Basque region - besides the peppers, onions, tomatoes, etc., theirs usually includes scrambled eggs, and I think sometimes ham too. (Nostalgic association: I had a french prof in grad school who made it for a class lunch a million years ago. Good memory.)
CarlaCooks August 5, 2011
I like the very simple recipe for Ratatouille in Ginette Mathiot's cookbook Je Sais Cusiner (recently translated into English by Chocolate and Zucchini blogger Clotilde Dusoulier, the English title is I Know How To Cook). I have my own version, inspired by the simple Je Sais Cusiner recipe, posted here: http://www.food52.com/recipes/12529_wowatouille It's a bit spicier and can work as a soup or pasta sauce.
Greenstuff August 5, 2011
Wow, ChefJune, something to think about there!

Katherine.grace.jonas, sorry to take your very reasonable question and turn it upside down. Please find how you like to cook them, and enjoy your eggplant, squash, peppers, and tomatoes. They are simple and delicious ingredients enjoyed from Turkey to Provence to French Basque lands, and there are lots of ways to make them taste great without worrying too too much about the name.

Me, I'm off to find Mark Kurlansky's annotated Belly of Paris--I had no idea!! How could I have missed it?! Woot!

pierino August 5, 2011
Okay, now we've gone from Provence to the Basque lands to Turkey! What the hell are we doing here when we are supposed to be advising on ratatouille?
pierino August 5, 2011
Greenstuff, I hope you have the new translation of Zola'sTHE BELLY OF PARIS by Mark Kurlansky. Wonderfully annotated too.
ChefJune August 4, 2011
Greenstuff, the Turkish name, I believe, is Imam Bayaldi. It means "the Imam Fainted!"
Bevi August 4, 2011
I swear by Julia Child's recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. There is something ritualistic almost in the making. It is a preparation, but I love the results like no other ratatouille recipe I have tried. I do substitute red peppers for the green peppers called for - unless I can find the light green thin skinned peppers. The green bell peppers are too bitter to use in this dish IMO. Mark Bittman published a recipe a while back, but I find that Julia's has a layering of flavor that is lacking in other recipes.
Greenstuff August 4, 2011
Thanks, pierino, I've been meaning to look that up for years. Wikipedia (maybe not the source I'd had in mind ) attributes it to a Michel Guérard take on on ratatouille and also mentions that Keller wrote about it in The French Laundry Cookbook. I don't have that one, but I think you do?

The name is supposedly Turkish, while the inspiration ratatouille plus a wider look at the region (All the way to Basque country?? I am indeed feeling uncomfortable.)

If you believe Wikipedia, Guérard even added mushrooms. I'd like to think I'm more historically based than that mish-mash, but I guess I fail. I've made pretty much the recipe from the Times ever since it came out. And for me, it's been more consistently delicious than my more traditional ratatouilles.

What can I say? Inspiration from a Pixar cartoon. Inspiration from a rat in a cartoon. But you know, as I've told a lot of family and friends, it really is a good movie! It's the reason The Belly of Paris is on my Kindle. And, of course, Keller is no slouch.

pierino August 4, 2011
Greenstuff I'm as always a great admirerer of Keller but I have absolutely no idea what "confit byaldi" is. And he doesn't mention it in any of his books. But one of the main components in the recipe, piperade, is actually Spanish Basque although they may make it on the French side of the frontier. But that's still pretty far from Provence. So what up with that?
MBobinski August 4, 2011
Thank you for your responses! The Thomas Keller recipe is going to be the next in line. And the advice about olive oil and herbs is great. I'll try this and report back!

Sorry for not mentioning it originally, but the iteration of ratatouille in my original question did include peppers (it was the Gourmet 1991).

pierino August 4, 2011
ChefJune the original poster didn't mention peppers and I absolutely agree with you that they are essential---and added that in my own comment. The key thing is that all the ingredients have to be in balance, so lumping them all into a pan at once is unlikely to work. I suspect that the original poster was just working off of a poorly written recipe.
amysarah August 4, 2011
I think of ratatouille as one of those old school, home cook (as opposed to chef-y) dishes that defy 'rules.' Every cook in Provence has his/her own version, even if it varies ever so slightly.

Growing up, we pretty much always had a vat in the fridge during the summer - to eat as a side dish, an omelette filling, with pasta... I think my mother's original recipe was probably from Julia Child's Art of....but over the years, she found her own balance of garlic, herbs, eggplant:tomato:zuch:peppers:onions. It's still the taste I try for when I make it (far less regularly than she did.) She/I always make it in one pot, so the flavors meld, rather than remain separate. But anyway - I think it's one of those dishes you just have to experiment with, to find the mixture you like best - like a homemade tomato sauce or chicken soup or meatloaf. Highly personalize-able.

ETA: the only 'trick' I can think of is really fresh vegetables/herbs and good olive oil...it's so much a part of the flavor.
ChefJune August 4, 2011
Pierino, not all "classic" ratatouille is cooked separately. Many Provencal cooks cook everything together. The chef I learned from added the zucchini last, as his idea was everything else should basically "melt" together. The zucchini, if added earlier, would disappear. Eggplant is the first vegetable into the pot.

That's how I've been making it to raves for the past 19 years.

For the OP, I think it's important to peel, seed and juice the tomatoes prior to adding, so they maintain some integrity in the dish. And I notice you didn't mention peppers. they are key in ratatouille, although not traditionally part of their Italian cousin, Caponata.
Greenstuff August 4, 2011
Another option for keeping flavors separate is to cook the ratatouille the way the rat in the movie did it in the oven. Here's the Thomas Keller recipe used for the film:
It's called Confit Byaldi. Pixar recorded him making it, including the fanning out of the vegetables for the presentation.
MBobinski August 4, 2011
Has anyone compared between recipes that cook the components separately (Gourmet 2003) and those that cook them in stages, but in the same pan (Gourmet 1991)? Last night I used Gourmet 1991, and by the time the eggplant was cooked everything was a gray sludge. In a perfect world, the vegetables would be well cooked but still colorful.
pierino August 4, 2011
In the classic ratatouille recipe you would cook each ingredient separately; meaning at least four different pans and combine everything at the end. You have different textures in each component and need to control the heat under each---and don't forget the peppers, tomatoes and garlic.
Lexmccall August 4, 2011
My version (adapted from Wolfgang Puck) calls for 1 eggplant, 1 zucchini, 1 bell pepper, and 2 tomatoes. Oh, I guess there's an onion in there, too. Also fresh basil, and oregano (fresh if you have it, though dried is fine). And a fair amount of olive oil, red pepper flakes, and salt.
I think the trick is to find whatever ratio suits your palate the best. Good luck!
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