July 26, 2007

Dancing with Remy, or How I Created My Winning Ratatouille Recipe

My 16-year-old son, Jeremy, thinks I should buy a dancing Remy doll because I am so obsessed with the movie “Ratatouille.” It’s got fabulous food, it’s set in France, and it’s from Pixar…what more does one need to justify the ticket price? And now I get to see the movie again for free — MANY thanks to Recipe4Living!

That brings me to my winning ratatouille recipe, featured on the site this week. I’m not much of a photographer, but you get the general gist of it — lots of gorgeous summer vegetables cooked together into an amazing dish (if I may say so myself — I’m very proud of this one!). I knew that I had found the perfect recipe when Jeremy told me how good the house smelled as I was cooking … and I was making a concoction that included all of his least favorite foods on Earth (with the exception of mushrooms, which I didn’t happen to have on hand that night). I didn’t possess sufficient motivation to try the gorgeous constructed version that had been created for the movie; I was just in the mood for good ol’ fashioned French comfort food, and started chopping and stirring. While the difficult-to-pronounce-authentically meal both sounds and looks impressive, it is really a ridiculously easy recipe to make.

First, go to your local farmers’ market if one is available, if you don’t have your own backyard overabundance of zucchini and tomatoes — the produce you’ll find was likely picked that morning, rather than shipped across the country or the continent. It’s wonderful to be able to support local farmers, to talk to them and to their family members, and to learn about the varieties of fruits and vegetables they dedicate themselves to, such as beautifully ridged Romanesque zucchini or Balaton cherries (which have nothing to do with ratatouille, but are amazing to cook with — a tart variety with darker skin and a bit more sweetness than the traditional Montmorency cherries). Second, make sure that you have good wine … not just any old cooking wine, but a rich French red wine (bien sur!) to really impart a deep flavor. (If you want to pour a small glass for yourself while you cook, that won’t hurt anything!) Once you have your ingredients ready, it’s time to embark on your rustic French experience.

My recipe is pretty self-explanatory: chop, sauté, add an ingredient, stir, add something else, keep layering flavors, cover the pan and cook to soften the vegetables and to unite them into a beautiful meal rather than leaving them as merely individual pieces. In this instance, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, as each vegetable is identifiable but is also an essential player in the mix. The ratatouille can be served hot or lukewarm or cold, over pasta or rice, as an entrée or as a side dish, as a simple supper or as an elegant offering at a dinner party … truly, you can make it your own. One way I add to its ambiance is by serving it in the gorgeous Quimper casserole dish pictured, which I bought at Chez Pierre in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is not only imported from France, but it meets with our American sensibilities by being both microwave- and dishwasher-safe … what’s not to love? It’s particularly fun to shop at Pierre’s store, because he not only is genuinely excited to share his native France with customers by selecting the very best linens, chocolates, jams, soaps, and other products; but he also is a charming and enthusiastic host when you enter the shop, and welcomes you with his gorgeous French accent!

So, if you’ve seen “Ratatouille” and felt chills when Anton Ego remembered his mother’s version of this very famous dish, then I invite you to try my recipe and feel as though you have gone vacationing to France yourself. Bon appétit, as the beloved Julia Child would say! And enjoy!

Mary is the winner of Recipe4Living’s Ratatouille Contest. You can see her recipe featured on Recipe4Living.com, or you can click here.

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