When trying to figure out how to best draw ratatouille for the climatic showdown with the food critic in Ratatouille, director Brad Byrd relied on his food advisor, Thomas Keller, for inspiration. When asked how he would serve this dish to a world famous food critic, Keller came up with a fan shaped design (seen right). However, traditional ratatouille calls for vegetables to be fried and then baked. Other recipes rough chop and saute all the vegetables together and serve like a stew or inside a crepe. This tradition changed in 1976 when a French chef named Michel Guérard developed a layering technique for presentation purposes. Using this technique, Keller developed this variation and named it after the Turkish dish, İmam bayıldı, which is like ratatouille stuffed inside an eggplant. As a side note, translated to English, the Turkish dish means “the imam (spiritual leader) fainted”. The story goes that the Imam’s wife served this dish and it was so delicious that he fainted. That’s good cooking!
The preparation for this dish comes in two parts. The first is a piperade which will serve as the base for the dish and flavor the vegetables sitting on top. The second is the ratatouille itself. The main challenge, however, comes not from the preparation, but from the presentation. Gravity is your enemy here and the picture above is virtually impossible if you accept the laws of physics. Given that I live in reality, and my guess is so do you, you may want to serve this family style alongside a heaping bowl of couscous or polenta.
- 1/2 red pepper
- 1/2 orange pepper
- 1/2 yellow pepper
- 1 small onion, diced
- 12 oz tomatoes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp garlic, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp Herbs de Provence
- 1 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces)
- 1 yellow summer squash (4 to 5 ounces)
- 1 small eggplant (4 to 5 ounces)
- 4 roma tomatoes
- 1 tbsp Herbs de Provence
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp garlic, minced
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the pepper halves cut side down on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes until skins give way. Set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, dice the peppers fine. Turn the oven down to 275 degrees.
2. Cut the tomatoes and half. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and pulp into a small bowl. Squeeze the pulp and seeds to get as much juice out as possible. Throw away the seeds. Diced the tomato into cubes.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat (a 3 or 4 on the dial). Place the onion and garlic into the pan and cook until soft, but not browned. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, and Herbs de Provence. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the liquid has all but evaporated (about 10 minutes). Add the peppers to the pan and simmer until soft.
4. Reserve 1 tbsp of the piperade. This is to be used to make an accompanying vinaigrette just before serving. Place the rest of the piperade in the bottom of an 8 inch skillet or baking dish.
5. Slice the zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, and roma tomatoes into thin slices. The thinner they are, the easier it will be to layer them in the baking dish. The goal is to make everything the same size. About 1/16 of an inch would be perfect.
6. Arrange 8 slices down the center of the dish first on top of the piperade, alternating in whatever pattern you’d like. Keeping the same pattern, continue to arrange slices around the outside of the center strip allowing about 1/4 inch of each slice to be seen. Continue until you have filled the dish. All slices may not be necessary. Top with olive oil and Herbs de Provence.
7. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the oven for 2 hours. Make sure the edges are sealed well or the vegetables will turn to mush.
8. Uncover and continue to cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, if there is excess liquid (as in the juices cover the vegetables completely) in the baking dish, set on the stove over medium heat and reduce. For additional color, place the pan under the broiler until brown.
9. If you would like to make an accompanying vinaigrette, mix the 1 tbsp reserved piperade with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
10. Serve the byaldi hot on top of some couscous or polenta. Garnish with the vinaigrette.