It’s not very often that I get up enough chutzpah to contradict Julia Child, but in the case of ratatouille I really have to take a stand.
Child’s version of ratatouille requires the careful separate cooking of each vegetable, before layering the elements in a casserole for slow simmering. Now, I have no doubt that this time-consuming stew is lovely, and full of exciting textures. But if we’re going for authenticity, I have to point out that in all my time in France I never once met any home cook who made ratatouille in this way. All of the French moms I know simply throw the veggies in a big pot, turn the heat to low, and stir every so often. That’s it. In fact, the word ratatouille apparently comes from the French touiller, which means “to stir”. Yes, stir – not arrange in fussy little layers.
I love our local Dedham Farmer’s Market. Thanks to the farmer’s market manager, Joanna Hamblin (who happens to take some lovely photos), you can see how fantastic our market has been this summer. The richness of the market is something of a blessing and a curse. I get so excited about the overflowing stalls of veggies and fruits and jams and breads that I generally come home lugging so much more than Jeff and I can manage to eat in a week. But ratataouille to the rescue! I’ve been making huge batches of this stuff. We’ve been having ratatouille with dinner over grilled chicken or on swordfish kebabs, or for a simple lunch with warm pita. Sometimes I toss it with pasta and a bit of goat cheese, or use it as a filling for omelets. And lately I’ve been loving ramekins half-filled with ratatouille, topped with an egg, and baked until the white sets. With a bit of baguette this is just about the best summer meal imaginable.
If you don’t have herbes de Provence on hand, feel free to use equal amounts of basil, savory, and fennel. In fact, pretty much anything goes in this forgiving stew. The recipe is not set in stone, but you can find my favorite version here in this month’s Cozy, Delicious column in the Dedham Transcript, on WickedLocal.com.