Musical pairing – C’est si bon by Yves Montand
You may remember from some of my former posts that I have recently relocated to Florida. Roughly .002 seconds after crossing the state line, my husband and I procured annual passes to Walt Disney World. While most people enjoy a night out at the movies or spend the weekend relaxing at home, my husband and I cross the turnstiles into the four parks of Walt Disney World like its our job. Like we’re trying to set a Guinness World Record. Like those gates are the shiny red ribbon at the end of an Olympic relay.
That being said, I’ve been seeing an awful lot of everyone’s favorite little fuzzy cartoon rat (Remy) from “Ratatouille” lately. I see him in stuffed animal form at Disney gift shops. I see him in sketches and paintings at Disney art shops. But best of all, I see him in the France pavilion at Epcot on banners associated with some of the restaurants there. And here’s the thing about me and Remy the cartoon rat. (Not the recipe yet, we’ll get to that later.) I grew up with rats. My sisters always had pet rats, mice, gerbils, and that’s not even mentioning the rodents. So to me, rats have never been gross or weird. That made the movie “Ratatouille” a satisfying confirmation that I am not the only girl on the planet who doesn’t perform the “jump on the chair and squeal” part of my assigned gender role. I’d like to believe that maybe Pixar is trying to de-wimpify an entire generation of children with all those adorable yarns they spin about bugs and rats and sharks and what-not.
Pests. Not exactly the best segue into a food conversation, I realize. But this week is all about the fresh summer vegetable dish now permanently associated with cartoon rodents. I found an incredible Ratatouille recipe over at Smitten Kitchen and decided to take advantage of my recent Disney inspiration and the seasonal vegetables that are just ready to drop off the vine.
And ratatouille, this recipe specifically taught me a lesson that most of you have known since you were five. But I’m a little slower. And it’s simply this . . . FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS.
Let me explain. The recipe I found called for one eggplant, one red bell pepper, one yellow summer squash, and one zucchini. While I was shopping at Publix for these ingredients, I doubted the recipe. I wanted to get two of everything. But I stopped myself. I said to myself, “Audrey Brown, you follow these instructions like you’re paying attention to a flight attendant’s safety spiel.” So I bought one of everything.
Then it came time to buy the strained tomatoes. (Which I had never heard of before this. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t make my culinary ignorance so very public. But chances are, if I had never heard of strained tomatoes, there’s some other movie nerd out there trolling the internet that may not feel so incompetent if they know they’re not the only ones.) So I go to buy the tomatoes and lucky for me, there is an actual brand suggestion. But it’s sort of expensive. So I start trying to think of a compromise. I reach for the fifty cent can of diced tomatoes with the rationale that I can just strain them myself, right? But I quickly flashback to some of my previous substitutions in Movie Bite recipes and I regain self control. My improvisations never seem to work.
I get home and I continue to follow the instructions, even though I realize that I am doubting every step of the process. I want to cut the vegetables a different way instead of in the delightful little slices the recipe calls for, because I doubt they will fit into my glass cooking pan. I think about sprinkling the onions on top of the vegetables instead of putting them in the sauce at the bottom. (Even I don’t have an explanation for that one.) But for once in my culinary life, I actually stick to the recipe.
And guess what?
When I pulled the Ratatouille out of the oven and I lifted off the parchment paper…it was gorgeous. Tomato sauce was bubbling up through the colorful vegetable slices. They’ve cooked to tender perfection and they lifted out of the pan and sat on top of a bed of rice like lovely little cartoon discs of food. My husband was impressed. I was impressed. And I’m convinced that if Remy had been there with me, he would’ve been impressed too. Granted, the recipe called for a vegetable slicer that you can set resulting in equal-sized slices of veggies. The best I would’ve been able to do would’ve been to break out the measuring tape . . . so I just roughed it. But it seemed to work out okay anyway.
Though it’s a simple dish, the end result is beautiful to behold and salty delicious to the taste.
What cartoon food has always caught your eye?
Slightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4, if using some sort of grain (polenta, couscous, etc)
- 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup whole canned tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
- 2 whole roasted red peppers – NOT the whole jar – 2 single peppers (I used jarred piquillo peppers)
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 small eggplant (you’re looking for ones about 2-3 inches in diameter – NOT the large ones)
- 1 small yellow squash
- 1 red bell pepper
- Few sprigs fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper
- parmesan cheese for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a blender, blend tomatoes and peppers until pureed
- Pour one cup of puree into bottom of an oval baking dish, approximately 10 inches across the long way (save any leftover sauce for another use). Add minced garlic and sliced onions into the sauce, stir in one tablespoon of the olive oil, the red pepper flakes and season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash; trim both ends off the red pepper and remove the seeds and ribs, leaving the edges intact, like a tube.
- On a mandoline or very sharp knife, cut the eggplant, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick; if using a mandoline, be sure to use the guard lest you loose part of your fingers . . . not that I’ve done that or anything . . .
- Arrange a layer of sliced vegetables down the center of the dish over the tomato-pepper sauce, then layer vegetables in a circle, following the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. You’ll probably have veggies left over (I did, but tossed those onto a pizza – yum!).
- Remove thyme leaves and sprinkle over veggies; drizzle the entire dish with remaining tablespoon olive oil and season with another pinch or two of salt and pepper.
- Cover with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside – which might be a tad tricky but if the edges aren’t perfect, no biggie – no one will see it anyway!
- Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked; you’re not looking for mushy vegetables here – just cooked with some integrity and the tomato sauce has bubbled up around.
- Grate some parmesan cheese over the top and serve with polenta, couscous, or other grain.
Audrey Brown is a freelance journalist and voice over artist. She recently completed her M.A. in Creative Writing and was once mentioned in the Huffington Post by documentary director Mark Edlitz for her feminist thoughts on Princess Leia’s gold bikini. Audrey lives in Florida with her husband Jake and it is entirely possible that you will see the two of them running wild through Walt Disney World on any given day. If you wave at them, just remember that the Vulcan hand signal is just their way of waving back and not an obscene gesture. You can find Audrey at her blog Born For Geekdom.