Ratatouille is a 2007 Pixar film about Remy, a culinarily talented rat, and Alfredo Linguini, an awkward garbage boy. The former’s dream is to cook in Paris’s most prominent restaurant (Gusteau’s) while the latter is rather, well, lost. When Linguini recognizes that Remy could be his ticket to a stable path and career, the two collaborate, make magic in the kitchen, and end up serving Paris’s most cold-hearted restaurant critic a dish so good he cries.
Kidding! Ratatouille is a southern French dish of stewed vegetables—commonly featuring eggplant, sweet peppers, summer squash, garlic, onion, and tender green herbs, in a tomato-based sauce. This version, as we know it, only came about around 200 years ago. Before that, “ratatouille” merely referred to a chunky vegetable stew.
This Genius ratatouille recipe from Alice Waters' 2007 cookbook The Art of Simple Food fusses only where it needs to fuss (over the eggplant), and adds a few smart, modern details—red chile flakes, a basil bouquet—that improve on a well-worn classic. Plus, it’s ratio is easy to remember: All vegetables conveniently work out to about a pound.
Salting, draining, and patting the eggplant cubes dry helps to remove excess water from the fruit (yes, it’s a fruit), which concentrates its flavor and makes for better browning later. Don’t be alarmed if your wrung-out eggplant is extra-thirsty for oil, and starts sticking to the pan—sticking is good for browning! Simply add another glug of oil, and stir frequently to keep the crisp faces from sticking too much and burning. From here, the eggplant gets folded into a saucy, flavorful base of peppers, squash, garlic, and tomatoes.
Now back to that basil bouquet (exactly as it sounds: a smaller bunch of basil tied into a bouquet with kitchen twine). Basil, as opposed to the woodier classics—thyme and rosemary—adds a liveliness to the vegetable party, pulling out the fruitiness of the tomatoes and bell peppers. This bouquet stays in only long enough to impart its aroma, replaced by a handful of its vegetal, freshly chopped leaves.
Helpful tools for this recipe:
- Five Two Essential Knives
- Le Creuset Dutch Oven
- Ekobo Bamboo Colander
- Prep time 20 minutes
- Cook time 50 minutes
- Serves 6 to 8
medium or 2 small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
olive oil, divided, plus more to taste
medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
to 6 garlic cloves, chopped
basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine + 6 basil leaves, chopped
dried chile flakes
sweet peppers, cut into 1/2-inch dice
medium summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
ripe medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
Salt to taste
- Toss the eggplant cubes with a teaspoon or so of salt. Set the cubes in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Pat the eggplant dry, add to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden. Add a bit more oil if the eggplant absorbs all the oil and sticks to the bottom of the pan. Remove the eggplant when done and set aside.
- In the same pot, pour in 2 more tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and cook for about 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, basil bouquet, dried chile flakes, and a bit more salt.
- Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir in peppers. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in summer squash. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in tomatoes.
- Cook for 10 minutes longer, then stir in eggplant and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more, until all the vegetables are soft. Remove the bouquet of basil, pressing on it to extract all its flavors, and adjust the seasoning with salt.
- Stir in the chopped basil leaves and more extra virgin olive oil, to taste. Serve warm or cold.