Friday, September 17, 2010

Photoless ratatouille

I keep forgetting to take photos when I cook! I know photos aren't required on this thing, but it really does bring the food to life when you do. Whatevs -- you're getting a photoless post. Learn to love it.

Ratatouille. Ah ratatouille! I'm pretty sure the first time I tried you was at my friend Lisa's Bat Mitzvah. I know it was at some sort of Mitzvah and since Lisa's birthday is at the end of September, a stew of late summer veggies being on the menu would make complete sense. Either way, you were very delicious. I was very very lucky to have a successful version of you on my first time around. Especially now that I know how very gross you can be.

I won't get into the details of why ratatouille can be so bad, but you can probably figure it out, especially if you've had the misfortune of eating overcooked zucchini. Which most people have. Which is why most people claim to not really like zucchini.

I, personally, adore zucchini. I think it's fab. It's one of the veggies I aim my fork at first, when approaching a grilled vegetable platter. There's something about both its texture and its ability to soak up flavour. Good good stuff.

You can do ratatouille on top of the stove, or baked. I do it both ways, but do enjoy the convenience of baked, since you can just bung it in the oven and forget about it while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Here's how I make a baked ratatouille:

In a saucepan, fry 1/2 lb of diced pancetta in a little olive oil, over medium heat, stirring often, until crispy. (Ok, there was obviously no pancetta in the Bat Mitzvah version, so this step is clearly optional, but highly delicious.) Drain and set aside.

In the fat rendered from the pancetta (or olive oil), fry one large sliced onion and about 8 cloves of thinly sliced garlic over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add 3 tbsp of tomato paste and 1 tsp of anchovy paste (hello secret ingredient!); cook and stir until the tomato paste starts to stick to the bottom of the pan and take on some colour, about 3 minutes.

Add about 3 cups of chopped (peeled, if desired) fresh tomatoes. Return the pancetta to the pan and simmer until a sauce forms, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in some dried herbes de Provence and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Meanwhile, slice one small head of fennel into paper-thin slices. Slice 2 red peppers and 3 not-too-large zucchini into 1/4-inch slices.

Pour the tomato onion sauce into a large (3 L) casserole dish and spread to cover the bottom. Nestle the fennel, zucchini and pepper slices, overlapping each other, into the casserole. Season the top generously with salt and pepper -- all those water-filled veggies will need it.

Bake, uncovered, in a 375 F oven until the sauce bubbles up around the vegetables and the fennel is tender-crisp, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let stand for 5 or 10 minutes (always a good idea with any casserole... just to let things settle). Sprinkle with chopped fresh basil or drizzle with a bit of homemade pesto before serving.

I served this ratatouille with smashed red potatoes and pan-fried chicken scallopini, but it's substantial enough to be a meal, even without the chicken. Mashed potatoes are a perfect side, since they soak up all the lovely vegetable juices.

And here's the part where I'd show you a lovely photo that you'd all make yum-yum noises at.


  1. Hallelujah there's no eggplant in there. It's always been ratatouille's great downfall, in my opinion. As much as I dislike ratatouille I would eat this. Especially if you made it. And because of the fennel. My god the fennel.

  2. I know!! Why don't people put fennel in the 'touille? It's so perfect in there.

    And yes, I left the eggplant out on purpose. I love eggplant, but I really only love it in certain applications. Ratatouille not being one of them.

  3. Hmm, see, now I love eggplant, especially when it's been cooked to mush, and am one of those people who doesn't care for zucchini, so I might try substituting there. Apart from that this looks super delicious. Thanks for posting!

  4. If you're adding eggplant, I would sprinkle the slices with salt first (both sides) to extract the bitterness. Let stand for 15 minutes. Then blot dry and wipe off the salt with some paper towel. Then continue with the recipe.

    You also may want to cook it a little longer -- for an hour or more. To get it to the really nice soft stage.

  5. I don't remember any of the food at Lisa's Bat Mitzvah party but I'm happy to see it inspired you to create this great recipe - definitely an improvement over the standard ones and now I think I know why it has never excited me - it's the eggplant. Going to try it soon.