No, not the movie. There's been plenty written about the movie lately. This is the classic vegetable ragout more properly known as Ratatouille Nicoise, and perfect for this time of year, especially if you have all the vegetables growing in your garden.
But even if you don't, a trip to the farmers market and you will soon have one of the most succulent things that summer brings.
It seems generally agreed that a proper ratatouille should contain these vegetables: eggplant, red bell pepper, zucchini, onion, garlic and tomato. Yellow squash also is an option, and I've seen recipes from reputable authors also including green bell pepper, though to my mind the green pepper imparts a bit of harshness that the ratatouille can do without.
But where do we go from there? I have to admit, I'm no expert in ratatouille. Having made the dish a few times with my rudimentary understanding of it, I thought it was high time I boned up a little with some of my expert references. So there I sat this morning with my copy of Larousse Gastronomique, the Vegetables volume of the Time-Life series on French Food edited by Richard Olney, and volumes by Roger Verges and Madaleine Kamman.
As defined by Larousse, the word ratatouille derives from touiller, French for to mix or stir. It originates in Nice, but now is ubiquitous in the south of France. The method prefered by purists, according to Larousse, is to cook the vegetables individually in olive oil, slowly, before incorporating them in the final ragout.
Madeleine Kamman is her usual finicky and hilarious self. The vegetables should be cooked until very tender, "until there is only enough of the wonderful natural vegetable juices mixed together to coat them lightly." She continues: "If you want a crunchy ratatouille, then you don't want a ratatouille. Instead, take the same vegetables, less the eggplant, and make yourself a stir-fry."
Kamman also insists on two different kinds of tomatoes in her ratatouille, "the first for juice and sugar, the second for texture..."
I have been lightly browning my vegetables, draining them on paper towels, and then assembling them together at the end. But I think a classic ratatouille does not brown the vegetables in a skillet, but rather cooks them gently until tender in a covered heavy pot, even in the oven rather than on the stove-top.
Most instruct to skin and seed the tomatoes before chopping them, but I'm not sure that's essential either, unless you have a real problem with tomato skins, which are hardly detectable in the finished dish. As for herbs, I've been adding chopped basil and thyme, but the traditional recipes suggest a bouquet garni that is removed after the ragout is finished.
For four to six persons, figure a medium eggplant, a medium zucchini and one of yellow squash, a large red bell pepper, a yellow onion and a couple of cloves of garlic, chopped fine. The eggplant should be cut into large dice. The squashes can be cut into thin rounds, the bell pepper and onion into thin strips. Cook everything separately with salt and pepper until tender, then put everything together and bake with a bouquet garni or your favorite herbs in a 350-degree oven until the flavors are melded. Serve at room temperature with a grilled chicken or some such.