There is only one Julia and not matter how hard I might try I’ll never be her. On this August 15th Julia Child would have been 109. I wanted to honor her birthday by making a classic recipe from Mastering The Art of French Cooking. I picked her Ratatouille recipe.
I had the honor of meeting Julia in the fall of 1999. She and Jacque Pepin were promoting their new PBS cooking series’s Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. We were gifted tickets to the talk with a meet and greet. As our turn to meet them was inching forward, I could not think of anything clever to say. What should I ask? When I finally met them all I could blurt out was “Thank you for teaching my mom to cook!” Then it was over. Nothing clever or witty. We ate and drank until it was time to go to our seats and watch them on stage.
In 2001 Smithsonian staff traveled to Cambridge to inventory Julia’s kitchen. She had donated it to the Smithsonian American History Museum. Lucky for me, I work in the museum next to American History. Whenever I am in need of inspiration, I go and visit her kitchen. I stand at the window and gaze in. A small piece a cooking history is at my feet.
Ratatouille is a French Provençal dish of stewed vegetables. Originating in Nice and it is also known as ratatouille niçoise. Recipes and cooking times differ widely, but the common ingredients include eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, onion, and some combination of leafy green herbs common to the region.
It certainly didn’t look like the perfect stack of vegetables that Remy made in Ratatouille. Was it better than a rat making it? Yes, because i made it.
“Ratatouille” from MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, VOLUME 1 by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck, copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf, a division ofPenguin Random House LLC. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the KnopfDoubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
As Julia made the notes about this dish she wasn’t mistaken when she wrote “It is not one of the quicker dishes to make, as each element is cooked separately before it arranged in the casserole to partake in a communal simmer.”
This recipe is a simple recipe but rather time consuming. I made it with what i had on hand. After putting it all tother I was not too confident in my casserole dish on the stove top so I baked it. Was is a success? I would say yes, it tasted good, more importantly the hubster like it and he is not a big fan of the vegetables. It’s better the next day. Pile it on a piece of crusty bread, it makes a great snack.
½ lb. eggplant
½ lb. zucchini
A 3-quart, porcelain, or stainless-steel mixing bowl
1 tsp salt
Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices 3/8 inch thick, about 3 inches long, and 1 inch wide. Scrub the zucchini, slice off the two ends, and cut the zucchini into slices about the same size asn the eggplant slices. Place the vegetables in a bowl and toss with salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain Dry each slice in a towel.
A 10-to 12-inch enameled skillet
4 Tb of olive oil, more if needed
One layer at a time, sauté the eggplant, then the zucchini in hot olive oil for about a minute on each side until brown very lightly. Remove to a side dish.
½ lb. (about 1 ½ cups) thinly sliced yellow onions
2 (about 1 cup) sliced green peppers
2 to 3 Tb olive oil, if necessary
2 cloves mashed garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
In the same skillet, cook the onions and peppers slowly in olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and season to taste.
1 lb. firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and juiced (makes about 1 ½ cups of pulp)
Salt and Pepper
Slice the tomato pulp into 3/8 strips. Lay the over the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until tomatoes have begun to render their juice. Uncover, baste the tomatoes with the juices, raise heat and boil for several minutes, until juice has almost entirely evaporated.
A 2 ½ quart fireproof casserole ab out 2 ½ inches deep
3 Tb minced parsley
Place a third of the tomato mixture in the bottom of the casserole and sprinkle over it 1 tablespoon of parsley. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then half of the remaining tomatoes and parsley. Put the rest of the eggplant and zucchini, and finish with the rest of the remaining tomatoes and onions.
Salt and pepper
Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip casserole, and baste with the rendered juices. Correct season, if necessary. Raise the heat slightly and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes more, basting several times, until juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful or two of flavored olive oil. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the casserole.
*Set aside uncovered. Reheat slowly at serving time or serve cold.
To learn more about Julia Child’s life and legacy, go to juliachildfoundation.org