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The JC100: Ratatouille

JC 100 Julie ChildWelcome to Week 11 of our celebration of the extraordinary life of Julia Child and her legacy of timeless recipes. This week we’re cooking ratatouille – an eggplant casserole with tomatoes, onions, peppers and zucchini.

The eggplant, or aubergine, belongs to the group of fruits and vegetables known as nightshades. Although closely related to the tomato and potato, it’s actually classified as a berry. It’s also a distant cousin of tobacco. Though eggplant becomes tender when cooked, the raw fruit has a bitter taste. Salting and rinsing it before cooking (a technique known as degorging) can help soften it and cut the bitterness.

I’ve eaten eggplant three times in my life. The first was at a buffet-style Greek luncheon where I tried the moussaka, and wished I hadn’t. The second was at an Italian cooking class after learning to make an aubergine and pasta timballo, a dish I thoroughly enjoyed but only after I peeled away all the soggy eggplant. And the third time was just last night, after cooking Julia’s recipe for ratatouille. 

Fresh Eggplant, Onion, Roma Tomatoes, Zucchini, Red Peppers and Garlic

Julia Child’s Recipe for Ratatouille

The JC100: Ratatouille
Recipe Type: Side Dish
Author: Julia Child
Serves: 6 to 8
Excerpted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
Ingredients
  • 1 lb eggplant
  • 1 lb zucchini
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 Tb olive oil
  • 1/2 lb (about 1 1/2 cups) thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 2 (about 1 cup) sliced green bell peppers
  • 2 to 3 Tb olive oil, if necessary
  • 2 cloves mashed garlic
  • 1 lb firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and juiced (about 1/ 1/2 cups pulp)
  • 3 Tb minced parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices 3/8 inch thick, about 3 inches long, and 1 inch wide. Scrub the zucchini, slice off the two ends, and cut the zucchini into slices about the same size as the eggplant slices. Place the vegetables in a bowl and toss with the salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain. Dry each slice in a towel.
  2. One layer at a time, sauté the eggplant, and then the zucchini in the hot olive oil for about a minute on each side to brown very lightly. Remove to a side dish.
  3. In the same skillet, cook the onions and peppers slowly in olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and season to taste.
  4. Slice the tomato pulp into 3/8 inch strips. Lay them over the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until tomatoes have begun to render their juice. Uncover, baste the tomatoes with the juices, raise heat and boil for several minutes, until juice has almost entirely evaporated.
  5. Place a third of the tomato mixture in the bottom of a casserole and sprinkle over it 1 tablespoon of parsley. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then half the remaining tomatoes and parsley. Put in the rest of the eggplant and zucchini, and finish with the remaining tomatoes and parsley.
  6. Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip casserole and baste with the rendered juices. Correct seasoning, if necessary. Raise heat slightly and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes more, basting several times, until juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful or two of flavoured olive oil. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the casserole.
  7. Set aside uncovered. Reheat slowly at serving time, or serve cold.
Notes

Ratatouille perfumes the kitchen with the essence of Provence and is certainly one of the great Mediterranean dishes. As it is strongly flavoured it is best when it accompanies plain roast or broiled beef or lamb, pot-au-feu (boiled beef), or plain roast, broiled, or sautéed chicken. Equally good hot or cold, it also makes a fine accompaniment to cold meats, or may be served as a cold hors d’oeuvre.

When I first read through this recipe, I thought it called for an extraordinarily large amount of olive oil but the eggplant soaked it up like a sponge. In fact, my vegetable stew could have used a little more liquid.

According to Julia,

“A really good ratatouille is not one of the quicker dishes to make, as each element is cooked separately …

Saute of red peppers and onions

…before it is arranged in the casserole to partake of a brief communal simmer. 

Ratatouille Nicoise in a casserole

This recipe is the only one we know of which produces a ratatouille in which each vegetable retains its own shape and character. Happily a ratatouille may be cooked completely the day before it is to be served, and it seems to gain flavour when reheated.”

Provencal Stewed Vegetables in a red casserole

So was the third time a charm for aubergine and me? Well, let’s just say that if you aren’t already a fan of eggplant, an eggplant casserole probably isn’t the dish that’s going to make a believer out of you. (You just can’t hide eggplant in a pot of stewed vegetables the way you can hide carrots in carrot cake or zucchini in chocolate-zucchini bread.) But if you’re already a fan of eggplant, you’re going to love Julia’s recipe for ratatouille! 

“If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff.”

~ Remy (the rat), Ratatouille, 2007

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6 Comments

  1. I love this. The writing, that is. I’ve never had ratatouille and you haven’t tempted me. I, too, like to eat the good stuff. Still, the French seem to like ratatouille. I have a French friend here in Canberra who makes it, but then she’s vegetarian.

    Reply
    • Thanks Trish! Based on the Week 11 posts from the other JC100 bloggers, I’m the only one of the bunch who doesn’t like it. We must be the minority :-)

      Reply
  2. I am an eggplant fan, the favorite recipe I have is of eggplant parmesan…not breaded like in restaurants, but layered with tomato slices, onion (optional) and slices of mozzarella, interspersed with bread crumbs that have been mixed in melted butter. Baked. Out of this world delicious. I’ll have to think about trying this ratatouille recipe…has possibilities for me. You’ve posted great photos!

    Reply
    • Thanks Susie!

      I haven’t tried eggplant parmesan but yours sounds fantastic. I love tomatoes, onions, mozza, bread crumbs and butter…I just can’t seem to get past the eggplant. I actually tried sprinkling toasted breadcrumbs on mine afterwards thinking it might help with the texture, but no such luck. I think it might have actually made it worse :-)

      Hope you’re having a great summer!

      Reply
  3. I wax hot and cold about ratatouille–and I really like eggplant. I think I ate so many LARGE bowls of BAD ratatouille in the ’70’s that I was permanently put off it. And yet… during my last trip to Provence I had some that really changed my mind. Wonderfully seasoned, and great, ripe vegetables. It also helps if you have a really good contrast to eat with it–like a fresh, crackly baguette or a wonderful quinoa salad. A little goes a long way. Good post – discretely put.

    Reply
    • I’m always a little hesitant to pass judgement on a recipe for a dish I’ve never eaten before. If you’ve never tasted a perfectly cooked version, how do you know if you’ve got it right? Maybe I executed it poorly or maybe I just really don’t like one of the main ingredients. I’d love to try some of the good stuff so I’d have something to compare it to.

      Nice to see Rialto will be taking part in the Julia Child Restaurant Week. Hope you’ll do a post about it :-)

      Reply

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