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Ratatouille: Is Julia's Recipe the Gold Standard?

I just returned from Provence, and although I had a number of outstanding meals along the way, the one dish that stands out from all the rest is the ratatouille I had as an accompaniment to the leg of lamb at the Auberge de la Fontaine in Venasque. On the plate, the vegetables were so intensely colorful it was hard to believe they were cooked. In my mouth there was a veritable explosion of flavors -- I wish I had the vocabulary to describe the experience of this dish. All I can say is "WOW!"

So now I'm searching for a great ratatouille recipe. One thing that is clear to me is that, in order to be successful, each ingredient must be cooked separately, and then combined at the end. It's also apparent that overcooking will kill this dish. Beyond that, I'm clueless.

Do I turn to Julia Child, or is there another recipe that will result in the WOW factor? Thanks!

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  1. I have only made the JC recipe, so I am not a good person to ask, but I do love her recipe enough to not have searched for another one.

    1. My favorite recipe specifies that each veggie is cooked separately. I've got others that are all-in-the-pot deals.

      I've learned to compromise. I salt and dehydrate the eggplant and zucchini together. Then I spin them to dry and coax out any remaining liquids, pat them with paper towel for insurance, toss them altogether in some olive oil and roast them together in a very hot oven in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet.

      I caramelize the onions separately in a large heavy sauté pan and remove them to a big bowl. I saute the peppers in the same pan until they're browned and set them aside. Then I put the peeled, seeded, juiced tomatoes, the garlic and the herbs with some salt and pepper in the pan the peppers just left and gently simmer them for just a little while. Be sure to get up all the fond in the pan.

      Now it's assembly time. A couple generous spoons of onions in the bottom of a very heavy lidded casserole. Next the zucchini & eggplant. More onions on top of that. Peppers. More onion. Tomatoes. More onion if any are left. On goes the lid.

      I put this in a 180˚ oven over night. Next day I take it out and add some liquid if it's needed or take off the lid and let some evaporate. Gently reheat and stir at serving time.

      I make LOTS and have it for days. The last bits make the basis for a lovely soupe au pistou.

      This method is still fussier than the all-in-the-pot method I learned when I lived outside Paris but it doesn't use every pot, collander and dish as when I first started making Niçoise style. And altho you get the flavor of the long slow braise, it doesn't actually take a lot of active time.

      Not sure how this compares with la Juilia's recipe but I really love it a lot and make it all summer long.

      1. I love ratatouille and have made a few recipes, as well as the "just throw everything together" variety. And I have to say that in my opinion, the JC recipe is in a class of its own. The flavours stand out better and become more concentrated when the vegs are prepared separately.

        1. Here's Julia's http://knopfdoubleday.com/marketing/c...

          I can see that it would be very different from my long slow cooking one. Personally, I think I have to try it minimally cooked but I bet I'll prefer the complex flavor of the slow cooked.

          1. Julia's recipe from The Way to Cook is my gold standard. It's one of my best dishes (blush) and it holds up beautifully when reheated. We usually eat it for several days.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ginnyhw

              Is that recipe different from her recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking?

              1. re: CindyJ

                I just checked & the recipe from rainey's link is the same as MAFC.

                1. re: tall sarah

                  That IS from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

            2. "One thing that is clear to me is that, in order to be successful, each ingredient must be cooked separately, and then combined at the end."

              I think you already have the secret and need no help from us or any cookbook.

              7 Replies
              1. re: Harters

                I wish it were so, but I still need the basics -- a list of ingredients and step-by-step directions.

                1. re: CindyJ

                  Aubergine, pepper, courgette, onion, garlic, tomato. Quantities pretty much up to you - I like a lot of peppers and courgette and am not that keen on aubergine (possibly the world's most overrated veg!).

                  Fry the first four separately in olive oil (just ordinary olive oil - not your best extra virgin) till they are just cooked. Then put the garlic in the pan and give it a little fry before adding the tomato, with some seasoning and whatever dried herbs you think sound right (we usually use a mixed herbes de Provence). Cook the tomato till its released some juices but not got slushy. Put everything back in with the tomatoes and heat through. My sister in law is a world class ratatouille cook - this is how she does it. In truth I always manage to overcook the veg.

                  Any leftovers should be good enough to eat cold with some crusty bread (throw in any leftover firm waxy potatoes)

                  1. re: Harters

                    Thanks! The problem I ALWAYS have when I saute eggplant is that it gets soggy with oil, even though I've salted/drained/pressed out excess moisture. How can I prevent that from happening?

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      I never salt aubergine (eggplant). I will always soak up like a sponge - for me it's the only thing that makes it edible!

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        Don't saute it - brush it with oil and roast it at 375-400.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          That makes sense. Do you salt and drain it first?

                          1. re: CindyJ

                            I don't - I make them in season, choosing the freshest ones available and preferably the paler colors. It's the older purple ones that are most likely to be bitter.

                2. Cook's Illustrated's recipe from Sept. 2001 calls for the eggplant and zuccini to be roasted together in a 500 degree oven until soft and caramelized. The onions and garlic
                  are sauteed separately with the tomatoes added and cooked just until they start to break down. At that point the roasted veggies are added, along with which ever herbs you are using. Julia's recipe is perfection, but this one is really good, too. Especially, if you like the flavor of roasted vegetables, which I do.