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Thomas Keller’s Ratatouille

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Chef Thomas Keller

         With the farm stands near us barely able to contain the bumper harvest from this glorious sunny summer in the Hamptons, it seems highly appropriate to bring you a great recipe for a vegetable feast.  And what says summer more than this Provençal classic, Ratatouille.  I first published this three years ago and it is so popular, I thought I’d share with you again. So here goes:
Thomas Keller, arguably the most influential chef in the country, recently wrote about Ratatouille in the Los Angeles Times.  He wasn’t talking about the 2008 movie of the same name, a fanciful food fable that won the Oscar that year for best Animated Feature.  He was referring to that summer classic that incorporates so many fresh vegetables your kitchen looks like you’ve robbed a farm stand.  What Chef Keller pointed out was how adaptable the dish is.  It starts out as a vegetable stew that’s an incomparable side dish or a vegetarian meal all by itself.

It is quite labor intensive so there’s no point in making a tiny batch of the stuff. Instead Chef Keller encourages making a recipe that yields 16 1 cup portions.  This, he points out, gives you the basis for any number of pasta sauces, a perfect soup base– even a sandwich spread.  The one thing the dish requires, besides a cornucopia of fresh produce, is time.  The start to finish on the dish is 4 hours.  I’d say that actually errs on the short side. But a lot of that time is spent while the ratatouille sits in the oven reducing the liquid away until you’re left with beautifully tender vegetables in a thick, silken sauce.  So you can sit back and stir occasionally.  All that time is a perfect opportunity to re-view “Ratatouille”, the movie.  If you’re uninitiated to its charms, it’s the story of an ambitious young chef and, yes, a Rat who cook away in a Parisian restaurant.  And what foodie doesn’t want to revisit Paris?

Ratatouille as a side dish

The master recipe for today’s Ratatouille produces a dish that is both acidic and sweet, beautifully colored and rich with olive oil. The latter is perhaps the one I’d go a little easier on.  The recipe calls for 2 cups of Olive Oil.  I found that I didn’t need that amount.  It is used largely to sauté the summer squash, zucchini and eggplant that are the backbone of the dish.  There’s no question the quantity of olive oil gives the dish an intense richness but I’d pull back a little. As you can see in the photo, when I served the Ratatouille as a side dish with steak, the olive oil separated and pooled on the plate.  Maybe it’s just a personal preference, but I’d prefer that not to happen.

Ratatouille as Pasta Sauce

As to Chef Keller’s adaptations, he recommends folding capers into the ratatouille and making pasta sauce.  He serves this on big thick Bucatini topped with bread crumbs and grated Parmigiano.  I followed these instructions and had a great vegetarian supper.  It occurred to me that I could have sliced some sweet Italian sausage, sautéed it and then folded in the Ratatouille for a hearty meaty version.   I also put a serving of Ratatouille in a gratin dish, topped it with sliced steak and a slice of cheese and broiled it briefly for a quick evening meal for one.

         While I have yet to try Chef Keller’s other suggestions, here they are:  Pulse the Ratatouille in the food processor with mustard, vinegar and a dash of Tabasco for a sandwich spread.  Or serve the spread with pita chips as an hors d’oeuvre.  Carry the food processing a little further or put the Ratatouille in a blender with some cold chicken stock and a dash of Pernod and you’ll have a summer soup Chef Keller swears by.  One final word from the Chef:  If you want to save the Ratatouille for later, you can freeze it for a month as long as you leave head room in the freezer container to make up for the expansion that happens when the Ratatouille is frozen.  Here is the recipe:

1 thought on “Thomas Keller’s Ratatouille”

  • My cousin, Sir John, wrote me this morning with a recipe for all that leftover Ratatouille. It sounds terrific to me. Here is what he wrote:

    "I really wanted to share with you is the world's fastest, laziest chicken supper.

    Her Ladyship insists on chicken breasts, meticulously de-tendoned and scraped clear of every ounce of fat or obscene hanger-on that she cannot abide. I, by contrast, prefer skinned chicken thighs, infinitely more sensual (well, they're thighs, aren't they), less cardboard-y when cooked and better flavoured than the breasts (which should, I suppose, be nirvana, if we're on a sensual kick).

    So, take whichever tickles your fancy, and lay the pieces in the bottom of a baking dish. Sprinkle with olive oil and season lightly. Cover generously with a layer of ratatouille (after all, you have made a lifetime supply of at least 16 cups of the stuff, and presumably frozen the 15 cups you didn't eat the first time) and chuck it in the oven for about twenty minutes. The chicken will be cooked as soon as the whole thing is bubbling. So simple, so delicious, so quick, so lazy. 10 out 10 for the busy exec needing a quick and sustaining hit after a bad day at the office.

    Bon appetit !"

    Thank you dear Cousin, this will be high on our list of must-trys!

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