“This ends up looking in color like a Braque still life” says my 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking about Ratatouille Provencale, an eggplant casserole. In “Ratatouille,” the Pixar/Disney movie, the character Linguini says, “Ratatouille doesn’t sound delicious. It sounds like ‘rat’ and ‘patootie.’ Rat-patootie.” Ratatouille is is both beautiful and delicious, one of my favorite late summer dishes.
Saturday we had all the garden vegetables needed to prepare ratatouille for dinner: onions and garlic, peppers, eggplant, the last two zucchini, and a couple large tomatoes. Which reminds me of some “Ratatouille” dialogue.
Skinner: What are you doing in here?
Linguini: I’m just familiarizing myself with, you know, the vegetables and such.
Skinner: Get out. One can get too familiar with vegetables, you know!
While I don’t know what that means, I know I like vegetables and Ratatouille Provencal is all vegetable.
When I prepare ratatouille using the Joy recipe, I’m not fussy about the quantities of each vegetable. If one is in short supply, I’ll add a little more of another vegetable, just so they maintain balance. I also skip the step of peeling tomatoes and will use cherry tomatoes if no large tomatoes are ready to pick. When all the vegetables are sliced, diced, or chopped, I saute the onions and garlic in olive oil in a deep skillet. I transfer the golden onions and garlic temporarily to a dish and put the remaining vegetables into the pan in a couple layers, adding salt and pepper to each layer. After scattering the onions and garlic on top, I cover the skillet and simmer the whole works over very low heat for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Then I uncover and simmer another 10 minutes to reduce the liquid. If it is not reducing fast enough, I transfer the vegetables to a lovely platter or bowl with a slotted spoon and then quickly cook down the juices before pouring the concentrated liquid over the ratatouille. I make enough to serve 6 or 8 persons; leftovers are good whether served hot or cold.
There is wisdom in the movie “Ratatouille” for both cooks and and artists. Gusteau says, “Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great.” Braque was a fearless pioneer of cubism. Which Braque still life do you think my platter of ratatouille most resembles?