When my daughter was three years old she insisted that I needed to watch Remi (a cartoon rat/chef from the 2007 animated film Ratatouille) make a 5-star version of ratatouille, so I "could make it just like he does." The animated food fascination started with this classic rustic stew of vegetables, and continued on with gingerbread that runs out of the oven, soup from The Tale of Despereaux, and Gruffalo crumble (though we did have to make some substitutions for that one.)
The ratatouille was by far the most interesting and fun cartoon culinary challenge. Although I did find some recipes online from others who had tried to mimic the animated version, there were some parts of our final product that evolved from choosing the best of whatever was locally and seasonally available. When we first tried Remi's ratatouille four years ago there was a bumper crop of eggplant in the region, and we happened to have beets available at the same time. The weather this year has left us with a slightly different assortment of choices. But if you happen to be growing beets and eggplant in your home gardens, or find them at your local farmer's market, this version of the little rat's signature dish will have you licking your plate like Ego (the fictional food critic) did with his own serving.
Ingredients: 2 medium tomatoes (cores removed and quartered), or 1-2 cups of cherry tomatoes 1 red bell pepper, (or any other sweet pepper), seeded and quartered 1 yellow onion, cut into wedges 4 cloves of garlic, peeled Canola or olive oil Sea salt Black pepper 1 Tbs herbs de Provence 1 zucchini, thinly sliced 1 Medium Japanese eggplant, thinly sliced 1 or 2 small beets, thinly sliced
Sauce for garnish: 1/4 cup light olive oil or 4 Tbs butter Juice from 1/2 lemon 1/8 tsp turmeric 1/8 tsp fenugreek powder About 1/4 of a whole nutmeg, grated Dash of white pepper Salt to taste 6-8 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and garlic in a baking dish and drizzle with some oil. Season with the herbs de Provence, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until the tips of the vegetables are dark brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes. Puree the vegetables in a blender until smooth. Spread the pureed mixture over the bottom of a large baking or casserole dish. Place the sliced zucchini, eggplant and beets (alternately) in a fanned pattern over the top of the tomato and pepper puree.
Brush with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Cut parchment paper to the size of the dish and lay it over the top of the sliced vegetables. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
While the ratatouille is baking, prepare the lemon sauce for garnish. Place all ingredients, except the basil, in a saucepan and whisk over low heat until the sauce is warm and begins to emulsify. Remove from heat and stir in the sliced basil. Place in a warmed jug. To serve the ratatouille, scoop out some of the vegetables and arrange on the plate. Drizzle a little warm lemon sauce over the vegetables or on the plate.