My first ratatouille

The art of cooking is an art form that many people of the millennial generation neglect. I, for example, have not cooked a real meal since I made chicken Alfredo in 2011. That dish was difficult and I was afraid I would burn it. Despite my hatred of cooking, there has been one dish that I have wanted to cook since I was 13 years old, ratatouille.

In 2007, Pixar’s “Ratatouille” came out and I loved the movie. The movie ended with the main character making a ratatouille. I had never heard of the dish before, and I have never seen it at a restaurant.

After nine years of wanting to try to re-create the beautiful ratatouille, I found the recipe.

It turns out the ratatouille from “Ratatouille” is not a normal ratatouille. Traditionally, ratatouille is a stew that, according to celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s recipe, only takes 45 minutes to make.

The film instead used Tomas Keller’s ratatouille, confit byaldi. This version takes around four hours to make.

The ingredients between the traditional ratatouille and confit byaldi are largely the same. The only major difference is the eggplant.

After a trip to Walmart, I had most of the ingredients: two red bell peppers, yellow onion, tomatoes, yellow zucchini, green zucchini, minced garlic, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

As I mentioned, the eggplant is different in this recipe. It calls for a Japanese eggplant, something Walmart does not have. As it turns out, neither does Kroger, Whole Foods Market or The Fresh Market.

In the end, I was unable to find a Japanese eggplant. At Asian Groceries on Rodney Parham Road, I found a Chinese eggplant. Oh well, Chinese eggplant would have to do.

My sous-chef for this attempt was my older brother Hunter. He has always loved cooking but he found this recipe to be challenging. “It used too many ingredients and required too much prep time,” Hunter said.

The confit byaldi recipe I used was found on the website justasdelish.com. The writer on that website, Shannon Lim-de Rooy, called the dish, “by far my most elaborate and crazy cooking attempt.”

Explaining the main difference between the ratatouilles, Rooy said, “[Keller’s] variation added two sauces, a tomato and bellpepper sauce at the bottom (pipérade), and a vinaigrette at the top, and serving the dish by fanning the vegetables out accordion-style.”

Ready to start, I sliced my red bell peppers in half, removed the ribs and seeds and placed them on a tray covered in aluminum foil. I baked them for 15 minutes.

The peppers are part of the piperade, which is sauce that goes on the bottom of the dish.

Next I had to peel the skin off the peppers. This was tricky as they were still hot several minutes later, and the skin didn’t want to come off. Once that was done, the peppers were finely chopped.

My brother, who loves to cook, then attempted to teach me to dice an onion. My diced onion didn’t look very pretty, but it worked.

In a pot I mixed olive oil, the onion and the minced garlic. I next diced a tomato. This was even more difficult than the onion.

The tomato, parsley, thyme and bay leaf were added to the piperade and then the peppers.

While that was cooking, I started slicing the vegetables. I tried cutting the Chinese eggplant with a knife, but my brother got out a vegetable slicer that I didn’t know we had.

I highly recommend the slicer. In no time flat, I had my Chinese eggplant, yellow zucchini, green zucchini and tomatoes cut in uniform slices.

Next, I poured the piperade into an 8- by 8-inch pan and started stacking my vegetables.

It turns out that this dish needs small tomatoes. Each vegetable should be the same size, so I had to cut the tomatoes a few extra times to get them to fit.

After mixing some garlic, thyme and olive oil, and pouring it over the dish, I put foil over it and baked it for two hours. I then baked it for an additional 30 minutes without the foil.

At this point I noticed a link on justasdelish.com to Keller’s official recipe and discovered that justasdelish.com’s is slightly different from Keller’s. His called for green and orange bell peppers, and in total, only three pepper halves go in it, instead of four pepper halves.

I also discovered that my piperade only had a third the amount of tomatoes in it that it should have, but that was my mistake, not the recipe’s.

Ratatouille is said to get better with age, so it spent the next 12 hours in the refrigerator.

After reheating, I mixed some of the piperade with olive oil, vinegar and thyme to create a vinaigrette.

With the dish finished, my brother confirmed that ratatouille is, “more difficult than what [he] usually cooks.”

In “Ratatouille,” Remy stacks the ratatouille on a plate in a beautiful stance. I tried, and somewhat failed, to re-create the films delicious-looking meal.

Regardless, it actually tasted good. Hunter also liked it, though he did say, “It could use some meat.”

 

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