It is difficult to talk about France in this series about the countries that go compete for the Cup for two reasons. One: since 1986, our team has only been beaten by the French in the World Cup. Two: the France is rightly considered the inventor of modern gastronomy. How to choose just one dish that represents the country?
For lack of better criteria, let’s go with a recipe that gained immense popularity because of a mouse cook. Released by Disney in 2007, the cartoon “Ratatouille” tells the story of Remy, a Parisian rat who dreams of being a chef – and has a talent for it.
Ratatouille is also the name of a typical dish of Provence, in the south of France.
It is a combination of various vegetables —tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and peppers — with olive oil and herbs. A 100% vegan delight created in the country of butter lovers.
The ratatouille is very reminiscent of the Italian caponata, and this is no accident. Nice, the city where the dish was born, is right next to the Italian border. Nice was Italian and was called Nice until 1860, when it was annexed to France.
The ratatouille recipe admits some variations in ingredients and methods. The traditional version is very rustic, with the sautéed chopped vegetables all in the same pan.
The food that appears in the Pixar film – and which I used as inspiration for the recipe that follows – is chef Michel Guérard’s devised interpretation of the nouvelle cuisine (“new cuisine”) movement of the 1970s.
In it, vegetables are sliced, layered on a bed of tomato sauce and roasted in the oven. The dish, although it is a declared reinterpretation of ratatouille, has gained its own name: confit byaldi.
Before baking, the zucchini and eggplant were grilled and marinated in olive oil with garlic and herbs. The eggplant had already spent some time soaking in salt, which extracts a bitter broth that you should discard. As for the peppers, I roasted them and skinned them… feel free to put them raw on the baking sheet.
Just as important as the flavor and textures in oven-baked ratatouille is the look. Try to vary the colors as much as possible. I used red and yellow tomatoes, red onion, red peppers and green zucchini (there is also the yellow variety).
If you have the time and patience, save the ratatouille for the next day — the flavors blend together and the whole thing tastes better. Eat with a good bread and a glass of rosé wine.
Yield: 2 servings
1 eggplant, in slices
1 red or yellow pepper
1 zucchini, in slices
50 ml of olive oil, approximately
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves
1 red onion
2 large, ripe, red or yellow tomatoes
Fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary)
Salt and black pepper to taste
- Leave the eggplant on a plate with salt for at least an hour.
- Roast the peppers until the skin darkens. Place it, while still hot, in a closed plastic bag. The steam will loosen the skin. When cool, remove the skin, stalk and seeds. Cut into strips and set aside.
- Discard the liquid the eggplant has released. Wash the eggplant to remove excess salt.
- In a skillet heated over high heat and with a drizzle of olive oil, quickly grill the eggplant and zucchini slices. Leave them marinating, for at least 1 hour, in a pot with oil (enough to cover the vegetables), vinegar, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 pinch of salt, pepper and herbs to taste.
- Prepare the sauce. Chop half an onion and the remaining garlic. Saute in oil until wilted. Add 1 chopped tomato and cook until thickened. Season with salt, pepper and herbs.
- Heat the oven to 200°C. Cut the remaining tomato and onion into slices.
- In a refractory about 20 cm in diameter, cover the bottom with tomato sauce. On it, distribute from outside to inside, alternating and overlapping, the slices of eggplant, pepper, zucchini, tomato and onion. Drizzle with the oil left in the marinade pot.
- Cover the refractory with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Eat hot, warm or at room temperature.
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