This is a wonderful warm and simple dish that will fill your kitchen with a delicious aroma that sighs comfort on a brisk autumn evening.
There are many different ways to prepare ratatouille, a rustic French dish. I have come to relish this one that gave the Disney movie “Ratatouille” it’s name. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Remy is a rat with a genius for flavors who is secretly trying to help a hapless young cook uphold the reputation of a French restaurant. At a crucial moment, Remy creates a fashionable looking ratatouille with elegant rounds of summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, and red pepper over a tomato purée. The result triggers happy childhood memories for a grumpy food critic and the restaurant is saved. Voilà.
If you can move past the fact that I am recommending a dish created by a Pixar rodent, I like Remy’s approach because the final result is not a tasty pile of mush. The vegetables hold their shape bit more when you roast them in the oven instead of simmering them on the stove top and the thinly sliced rounds have a delicate texture. The edges of colors that peek through bring to mind a scattering of autumn leaves. And it is so easy to make.
The recipe was interpreted from the big screen by Deb Perelman of smittenkitchen.com, and you really should check out her blog if you are into food blogs. I credit one of the Monitor’s food writers, Jennifer Wolcott, with introducing me to “ ‘Ratatouille’s’ ratatouille” (see recipe below). If you can, use the last of your summer tomatoes to make your purée. Serve the dish with warm, crusty French bread smoothed with goat cheese and a tall glass of cider. And then invite a friend over to enjoy it with you.
1 cup tomato purée
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 small eggplant
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1 long red bell pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Goat cheese, for serving
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Trace a large baking dish on a piece of parchment paper, trimming it to fit inside. Set aside.
Pour tomato purée and spread until it is evenly distributed on the bottom of the dish. Drop the sliced garlic cloves and chopped onion into the purée, stir in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season the sauce generously with salt and pepper.
Trim ends off eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash. Also trim ends off red pepper and remove its core, leaving the edges intact.
With a mandoline or very sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and red pepper into very thin slices, about 1/16 of an inch thick.
Arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge of the baking dish to the inside, overlapping so that only a small part of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables.
Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Remove leaves from the thyme sprigs with your fingers, running them down over the stem. Sprinkle fresh thyme over the dish.
Cover the dish with the fitted parchment paper.
Bake for about 50 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked but not limp. They should not be brown around the edges, and the tomato sauce should be bubbling around them.