Ratatouille is veggie stew, not film fodder
A child of my acquaintance asked me if Ratatouille was made of rats. It was a fair question, given the well-publicized images of the rat who is the star of "Ratatouille," the animated movie coming on out Friday.
The rat's name, by the way, is Remy. I thought it was going to be Ratatouille, but apparently the title comes from the dish made in the big finale.
All that aside, I figured there are many reasons to reflect on Ratatouille this week, especially if your house contains children. The movie gives you a head start on a topic they'd probably not otherwise care about. And, it will make them more inclined to taste a vegetable stew (if your kids already eat eggplant and zucchini, I'd like to shake your hand).
Finally, rat-ah-TOO-ee is fun to say 10 times fast.
Ratatouille is a French classic, from the region of Provence, made with the aforementioned eggplant and zucchini, plus tomatoes and onions. Other veggies are sometimes incorporated, as well as a variety of seasonings. The name comes from touiller, French for "stir." Rata, according to my dictionary, is soldiers' slang for "grub." Yum.
Do not confuse the dish with another eggplant dish, Moussaka, which is Greek, contains ground lamb, and sounds like it could be made with mouse. Or moose.
OK, so anyway, Ratatouille is a great summer dish, capitalizing on tomatoes when they're at their best. It's full of meat-free healthiness and can be served cold or at room temperature.
This very simple version comes from Mark Bittman's "The Best Recipes in the World" (Broadway, 2005, $29.95).
2 large eggplant, 2 pounds total, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch chunks
2 medium zucchini, 1 pound total, cut in 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 red or yellow bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
4 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and thickly sliced
1/2 cup chopped basil or parsley
Put eggplant and zucchini in colander and toss liberally with salt. Let stand 1 hour, then rinse quickly and squeeze dry.
Place deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, about a minute. Add garlic, peppers, eggplant and zucchini; stir. Lower heat; cover and cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender.
Add tomatoes; stir and recover. Cook another 30 minutes, until tomatoes break down and vegetables are very soft. Taste; add salt and pepper as needed. Stir in basil. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature. Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (not including salt to taste): 200 calories, 14 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 15 mg sodium, 18 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 3 g protein.
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