We’re in celebration mode as Disney World fans these days, aren’t we? Yesterday was both Walt Disney World’s big 50th anniversary and EPCOT’s 39th! And Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and the expansion of the France pavilion officially opened yesterday as well. Just in case you’re in a celebratory mood like I am, I thought that we’d whip up a very special Saturday Snacks recipe. (stage note: cue dramatic, heart-tugging music.)
“Today, on a very special episode of Saturday Snacks…” 😉
As we’ve done on occasion over the past 18 or so months, this weekend’s snack leans more toward entrée or side dish than snack itself. We traveled the savory dish route when we made Biergarten’s Nudel Gratin and Sadness’s No-Cry Comfort Food, so I hope that I can be forgiven for taking a little bit of liberty when choosing the recipe we’ll focus on today.
Today’s recipe is one that was created by Chef Paul Bocuse. Monsieur Paul in EPCOT’s France pavilion? Yep, that’s Chef Paul Bocuse. Chef Paul created this recipe when he opened Bistrot Chez Rémy in the Disneyland Paris’ Walt Disney Studios Park. Bistrot is the table service dining location connected with the Paris park’s version of Remy’s attraction, and Walt Disney World cast members were given a glossy souvenir card emblazoned with Chef Paul’s ratatouille recipe during the cast previews of the EPCOT attraction. How cool is that? The card itself is lovely, and it’s so exciting to have the late chef’s personal recipe for ratatouille.
Speaking of the timeless dish that is ratatouille, the dish that we’ll make today is the more traditional version. It’s more stew and much less constructed than what Remy made for Anton Ego in the movie. We’ll be kicking it old-school today, and I think that Chef Paul would be proud that we’re going to channel French heritage as we celebrate all things Walt Disney World.
The ingredients list for Chef Paul’s ratatouille had me spending a little time in the produce department of my local grocery store. It was at the beginning of the list that I realized that I had never bought an eggplant in my life. I grew up on my mom’s Fried Eggplant, but as I stood there and reviewed my adult life (as one does in the produce department), I realized that I had just never made a recipe that called for eggplant. And, as a result of my lack of eggplant purchasing and thus basic eggplant knowledge, I stood there needing to buy two medium eggplants and not really knowing if what I held in my hand actually fit the bill.
My gaze went from the eggplants in question to the produce guy filling in the end cap. I stepped toward him and proceeded to utter some of the most ridiculous questions/statements/non sequiturs to ever cross my lips. “The recipe calls for two medium-sized eggplants. I don’t know eggplants, but these seem bigger than medium. You know better than I do; are these large eggplants or medium-sized eggplants? Umm… I need four medium-sized zucchini. I think they’re medium; do you agree?” And then the classic “The recipe calls for medium onions. These are yellow onions, but the sign actually says ‘medium,’ so I’m buying them. Hopefully they’ll be okay.” Bless his heart. He tried his best to help me. I asked about sprigs of thyme and all sorts of things and he listened and didn’t ask me to get out. Shout out to the produce guy. You, sir, get the Most Patient with a Shopper award. Bless you.
We’re going to be doing all sorts of cooking techniques today with vegetables. The very best place to start? Get ‘em all peeled, chopped, sliced and diced. I didn’t do this ahead of time, and I had a bit of an aha moment in the middle of things when I realized that getting everything ready ahead of time – mise en place – was the way to go. Please learn from my mistakes and perform this sanity saver.
I decided to purchase carrots that were already cut lengthwise, and decided to cut them into thin strips as requested by the recipe. I needed 5 small carrots (so not baby carrots, but yet small…another how big should this vegetable be question), so I approximated what I thought 5 small carrots would be and sliced them as thinly as I could. I didn’t stress here, and it turned out that, well, everything turned out. Slice those carrots, but don’t stress about them. And then set your carrots aside.
It’s time to turn our attention to our friend the eggplant. The first instruction that the recipe gives us is that we’re to peel the eggplant. I grabbed my vegetable peeler out of the drawer and failed on my first and second attempts to peel the thick, glossy exterior. I double checked with my friend the internet and was assured that my peeler was indeed the tool for the job; I just had to put a little muscle into it. So I pressed the peeler into the eggplant and the skin came off one strip at a time. Hang in there; you can do it.
Once I had the two eggplants peeled, I grabbed my ruler and tried my best to cut them into the 1-inch chunks called for in the recipe. I placed the chunks into a bowl, tossed them with 2 teaspoons of salt, and set the timer for 30 minutes.
The recipe calls for us to purchase six large tomatoes, and then asks us to place a medium-sized pot filled with water on the stove to boil. We’re supposed to place our six large tomatoes in that medium pot filled with water, and I may not know much, but I do know that the physics just aren’t in our favor if we follow the recipe here. I washed my tomatoes and grabbed the biggest pot in my cabinet for the job. Thank you, IKEA, for creating my favorite pot. It’s absolutely huge, and it’s just the pot that I needed.
At the same time that you fill the pot with water and place it on the stove, grab a large bowl (or 2 medium-ish ones) and fill them halfway with ice water.
I brought the water up to boiling and, one at a time, dropped the tomatoes in. According to the recipe, it’s only supposed to take the tomatoes 30-60 seconds for the skin to break. My tomatoes did not get this message. They enjoyed their little hot tub for several minutes before finally getting the hint that they were supposed to actually be doing something.
Once the skin on one started to break, and I scooped it out and placed it in one of the bowls filled with ice water. One after the other, I would peek at the tomatoes one minute and the next minute look back and see that the skin had begun to break. It was like bobbing for tomatoes. Scoop ‘em out and give them plenty of time to cool in that ice water.
Once the tomatoes got nice and cool, I peeled the skin off and quartered them. Their next stop was a hot pan, and I was already thinking that this was going to be gooood. If you’re looking for a step to save, you could always use canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones.
My next move was to pull my favorite skillet (y’all have favorite pots and pans, too, right? Please say that you do.) out of the cabinet and place it on the stove. I heated it up for 5 minutes over medium heat, and when the timer sounded, I tossed in those gorgeous chunks of tomato. Yummm.
A sprig of thyme, a bay leaf, and 2 chopped cloves of garlic (another step I’d recommend that you do ahead of time) went into the pan, too. And, while the recipe doesn’t say it, make sure that you take that sprig of thyme and bay leaf out of the pan before serving the dish.
I let the tomatoes et al simmer in that skillet for 20 minutes. The recipe says that the juices will begin to reduce. When the 20 minutes is up, you and I can set the pan aside.
While the tomatoes were doing their thing, I turned my attention to the onions and carrots. I chopped the two medium onions and, while the recipe calls for us to sauté them in a Dutch oven, I am short one Dutch oven. I decided to rinse out and use my ginormous pot from earlier, and it was just what the doctor (or chef) ordered. I poured 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the pot and allowed it to come up to temp over medium heat for five minutes.
When five minutes was up, I dropped the chopped onions and sliced carrots into the hot pot and allowed them to cook for the required eight minutes. Actually, the recipe calls for us to cook the onions and carrots for 8-10 minutes, but they were done after just six. I kept them in there for the extra two minutes, and everything turned out just fine.
This is the point where Chef Paul simply asks us to “add zucchini,” without letting us know how to cut them up. Are they supposed to be sliced? Chopped? What? I decided earlier in the process to slice them into 1/2-inch or so slices and then quarter them from there. It would do, and it seemed in keeping with the rest of the dish.
I added my zucchini chunks, covered the pot, and set the timer for 10 minutes. The smell in my kitchen at this very moment? Soooo good. I had high hopes.
At some point during the construction of this dish, your timer sounded alerting you to the fact that the eggplant had rested in the salt for 30 full minutes. It’s at this point that we are to rinse the eggplant chunks and then squeeze out the excess water.
You could simply take paper towels and press them into the eggplant, hoping to squeeze out some of the water, but I found out quickly that those eggplant chunks are like teenie little sponges. They soaked up quite a bit of water, and I chose to squeeze them out a handful at a time.
Once I reached the point at which the carrots and onions had sautéed for 10 minutes, I tossed in the now dry eggplant chunks, added in those glorious tomatoes along with a bit of salt and pepper, covered the pot, and set the timer for 20 minutes. Friends, let that pot simmer and know that good things are coming.
When the 20 minutes was up, I scooped myself a bowl of comfort and dug right in. The ratatouille was everything that I hoped it would be: rich, with fresh and layered flavors that sung.
Traditional stew-like ratatouille is the perfect thing for a Fall weekend evening, and every step of Chef Paul’s recipe is, in my opinion, worth it. Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE saving a step or two, and if you choose to, there’s no shame in it. However, following along with the Chef’s steps, and in the process learning how to do culinary things I’ve never done before, was so much fun. It was an adventure, and for a big celebratory weekend like the one that you and I are having, it felt like it was just the thing to do.
If you have a crusty baguette on hand, it would be the perfect accompaniment for your bowl of ratatouille. The stew is just so good, and my thanks go to Chef Paul for posthumously allowing us to share in his love for French cuisine.
Whatever you’re celebrating this weekend – whether it be all of the things at Walt Disney World or the fact that you finally folded that load of laundry that’s been sitting on the chair in the corner for lo these many days – may you enjoy every moment. Celebrate whatever you can, and savor these early Fall weekends. Thank you for coming by and giving this a read. I am so thankful for you.
Ready to invite classic French flavors into your kitchen? The recipe for Chef Paul’s Ratatouille is below:
La Ratatouille de Paul Bocuse
2 medium eggplants
2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
6 large tomatoes
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
5 small carrots, cut in thin strips
4 medium zucchini
Salt and black pepper to taste
- Peel eggplant and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place in medium bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons of salt. Rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Bring water to boil in medium sauce pan. Carefully placed tomatoes in boiling water and cook for 30 to 60 seconds, until skin begins to break. Remove with slotted spoon and place in ice water. When cool, peeled tomatoes and cut into quarters.
- Heat large skillet over medium heat for five minutes. Add tomatoes, thyme, Bayleaf and garlic to pan and simmer for 20 minutes, until tomato juices begin to reduce. Set aside.
- With caution, heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat for five minutes. Add onions and carrots; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until soft. Add zucchini. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.
- Rinse salt from egg plant and squeeze to remove excess water. Add to Dutch oven along with reserve tomatoes. Add additional salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve hot.