Ratatouille by Kai Chan

by Kai Chan

Ratatouille is a vegetable stew from the south of France. Apparently every household has its own recipe. Basically it is made with eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, onions,  garlic and herbs covered in olive oil and roasted separately and then all together. Since the animated movie, “Ratatouille” came out, it has been upgraded a fair bit. The French probably laugh at the fuss we made about this very simple dish. In the summer in the south of France, the eggplants would be tender, zucchini juicy,  onions and red peppers sweet, tomatoes perfectly ripened by the hot sun, and there are plenty of herbs around, plus the best extra virgin olive oil. All one needs to do is to chop all the ingredients and cook them in olive oil.
Well, it is hard to match what the French could do, but we do try. A few years ago Melisa Clark wrote for the New York Times, a full page article with photo illustrations, to demonstrate the reason one needs to be rather fussy in order to make an excellent ratatouille. Since then I have prepared ratatouille according to her instruction; however, I have slipped a bit and modified her method. Here is the way I do it.
In the past summer I bought a lot of fresh plum tomatoes from the farmer's market and made them into tomato confits. First skin the tomatoes, remove the core, and put them standing on a roasting pan with chopped garlic, salt and olive oil,  then bake them, at 270º F for 3 hours; baste the tomatoes with olive oil every 30 minutes or so. I use this tomato confit for my  ratatouille.
In making the ratatouille, select the same amount of onion, zucchini, eggplants, red peppers and tomato confit.  Chop all the vegetables to the same size ( about 3/4 inches cubes ), except zucchini in 1/4 inch rounds. Mix each vegetable with olive oil, salt and pepper with a bit of thyme and rosemary; spread each vegetable on rimmed baking sheet pans so that they would not be over-crowded, bake at 400º F for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and lightly browned at the edges. Once all the vegetables are done, combine them in a dutch oven, chop up the tomato confit and add to the baked vegetables. Add a generous amount of olive oil, mix everything together and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It is good to have ratatouille cold or warm; and it tastes better the next day.


The Raw and the Cooked, MYTHOLOGIQUES is a new column on the culture of eating and cooking, with contributions by various authors. The column name is borrowed from the title of a book by Claude Levi-Strauss. It is spontaneous, a little amusing but serious at the same time.

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