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Today, I am setting the record straight. I am sharing with you my family’s traditional French Ratatouille Recipe.
Growing up in France, Ratatouille was probably my favorite dish I assisted my Mom in preparing. It was a true labor of love, and it brings back fond memories every time I make it. It involved careful slicing and individual browning of each vegetable to enhance their sweetness, then letting them simmer together until all the flavors have blended. Even on a gray and rainy Normandy day, the house filled with delicious aromas of sunny Provence. And in the end, our family would gobble down the pot in a fraction of the time it took to make it…
However, upon the release of Pixar’s Ratatouille, a common misperception began to irk me – the dish depicted in the film was not traditional ratatouille. The authentic version is not a neatly arranged plate; it’s a hearty, somewhat disheveled stew. In truth, the dish from the movie is Confit byaldi, a twist on the conventional French dish ratatouille, concocted by French chef Michel Guérard and adapted for the movie by Chef Thomas Keller. While it may share the same ingredients list as ratatouille, its preparation method – layering and baking – results in a visually more appealing dish compared to the rustic charm of the original vegetable stew.
So, let’s find out what real French Ratatouille is supposed to be.
Ingredients to Make Ratatouille
Ironically, though it’s a summer vegetable stew, preparing an authentic Ratatouille demands winter-worthy heat. Fortunately, these veggies are year-round staples in most US stores. During summer, I opt for an oven-roasted version, sparing my kitchen from excessive warmth.
Here are the key ingredients for our French Ratatouille Recipe, along with their nutritional benefits:
- Eggplant: Provides a tender, hearty texture and absorbs flavors beautifully. Rich in fiber and antioxidants.
- Zucchini: Adds a mild sweetness and is packed with vitamins A and C.
- Mixed color bell peppers: Offer a sweet flavor and vibrant colors, and are rich in vitamin C.
- Onion and Garlic: Create a savory base, enhancing the overall depth of flavor. They contain beneficial antioxidants and are known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Canned San Marzano tomatoes or ripe Roma tomatoes: Contribute to the sauce base and are high in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.
- Bay leaf, thyme, oregano: For an aromatic and earthy flavor.
- Lemon zest: Adds a hint of citrus brightness, balancing the dish.
For the full recipe, see below. Here’s a quick outline:
- Prepare the eggplant and let it sweat while working on the other vegetables.
- Sauté the onions and garlic. Transfer to a bowl.
- Brown the zucchini, then the bell peppers, transferring to the bowl as you go.
- Wipe the eggplant dry then brown it.
- Add all vegetables back to the pot.
- Add the herbs and tomatoes, then simmer.
Recipe Tips and Substitutions
- If using fresh Roma tomatoes, remove the seeds and cut them in 1/2″ chunks. If using canned whole tomatoes, crush them gently with your hands in a bowl or cut them in 1/2″ chunks.
- The critical step of cooking the vegetables individually ensures they reach a lovely caramelized state, which lends a delightful sweetness to the dish.
- For a low sodium option, skip the salting of the eggplant.
- You can also add rosemary for an extra flavor of Provence
- Mix in black Niçoise olives
- Use some yellow squash with the zucchini for more variety.
- This traditional French Ratatouille is versatile enough to serve as a side dish with chicken or grilled fish.
- For a hearty breakfast or a light meal, top it with a poached egg or mix it into your scrambled eggs.
- For a vegetarian meal, serve it over pasta or brown or black rice. You can also add chickpeas for an extra protein boost.
- Or eat it on its own with a slice or crusty whole grain bread!
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. You can also freeze the ratatouille for up to three months. Reheat gently on the stovetop or in the microwave.
A traditional French Ratatouille is more than just a vegetable stew recipe; it’s a heartwarming fragrant dish that brings the rustic charm of French cuisine right into your kitchen. I hope this one-pot recipe becomes a favorite in your home as well.
Other delicious recipes to try:
- 1 1/4 pound eggplant (about 1 large) halved or quartered and cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 pound Onion (about 2 medium) thinly sliced
- 6 large garlic cloves thinly sliced
- 1 pound mixed bell peppers red, yellow, orange or green, cut into slices about 1/2 inch wide
- 1 pound zucchini (about 2 large) halved or quartered and sliced about 1/2 inch thick
- 1 can San Marzano tomatoes (28 oz can) or 1 lb fresh ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
- 1/2 tbsp fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp dried)
- 2 strips of lemon peel
- Salt and Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 4 tbsp fresh basil or parsley, for garnish
- Wash and slice the eggplant. Place the slices in a colander and generously sprinkle them with kosher salt. Give them a good toss to ensure all the slices are coated. Set aside over a plate to collect the drippings while you wash and slice the other vegetables.
- If using fresh Roma tomatoes, remove the seeds and cut them in 1/2" chunks. If using canned whole tomatoes, crush them gently with your hands in a bowl or cut them in 1/2" chunks.
- Preheat a cast iron Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the onions and a tablespoon of olive oil. Cook, stirring frequently, until they start to brown, which should take about 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic to the pot and cook for an additional 2 minutes, making sure to stir constantly until it becomes soft and fragrant. Be cautious not to let it burn.
- Once done, transfer the onions and garlic to a large bowl.
- Add the zucchini to the pan with another tablespoon of olive oil. Cook, stirring often, until all slices are nicely browned, about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the zucchini to the bowl.
- Add the peppers to the pot with another tablespoon of olive oil. Cook, stirring often, until they have softened and browned a bit, about 8 minutes.
- While the peppers are browning, dry the eggplant slices with papers towels to remove moisture and excess salt.
- Transfer the peppers to the bowl once they are ready.
- Add the eggplant to the pot with the rest of the olive oil (3 tbsp). Cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure they don't stick to the bottom.
- Once the eggplant is nicely browned, add all vegetables back to the pot.
- Add tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, lemon strips and fresh ground pepper.
- Stir well and bring to a gentle sizzle over medium-low heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, for 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Serve warm. Stir in fresh basil shortly before serving or top with fresh parsley.