Ratatouille Two Ways: Traditional & Pixar-Style
Do you like Pixar’s Ratatouille? Of course you do — who doesn’t love a movie that stars a cute animated rat? We wanted to approach ratatouille two different ways — the fancy way as shown in the movie, and the not-so-fancy way that people have been cooking forever.
Ratatouille has been a dish since the 1870s (if Wikipedia is to be believed) and originated in Provence. That means it’s about the Frenchiest French dish imaginable. Delicately stewed vegetables work together with herbs to create complex flavours — it's simply delicious.
Before you read the list of ingredients below and turn your nose away saying “ew, vegetables”, we encourage you to have an open mind. Eggplant isn’t icky, and zucchini isn’t scary. Try it!
Tomatoes (cherry or roma, depending on the recipe)
Red Bell Pepper
Rosemary and/or Thyme
The ingredients we used for each version of Ratatouille are practically the same — the main difference is in how the dish is prepared and presented. This is your (and our) first steps into higher end culinary plating (though as you’ll see later we still have quite a bit of work to do on that front).
First Way: Traditional Style
Up until the 1970s everyone made ratatouille the simple way. Then chef Michel Guérard showed everyone up and made Confit Byaldi (what we’re calling Pixar-style ratatouille in the next section below). To make traditional ratatouille, start by peeling the eggplant and roughly chopping it into manageable pieces, then cutting the zucchini into similar sized pieces. Put them in a colander with some salt and let them sit for half an hour to allow some of the moisture to drip out. (Put a bowl underneath the colander so the juices don't make a mess on your counter!) Once that’s done, sear the eggplant and zucchini in a pan with olive oil to brown them and develop the flavours.
🍅 Mediocre Tip: Make sure that you sear in batches. If you put too much shit in the pot, the vegetables will steam or boil and they won’t sear. Then you have mushy vegetables. Nasty.
After the searing is complete, add in the red pepper, onion, cherry tomatoes, and herbs, and let everything cook down and get soft. Then add the zucchini and eggplant back in, give everything a mix, and salt and pepper to taste. Finish cooking the dish in the oven at 400°F for 20 minutes or so. Boom! Done.
Simple — only requires a few steps
Fast to prepare (compared to the Pixar-Style)
Not the best looking dish (definitely lacking the wow factor)
For such a complicated-sounding name, ratatouille is easy to make. The final product isn’t visually great to look at, but it does taste quite delicious. The vegetables all have a chance to shine without being overpowered.
Second Way: Pixar-Style (Confit Byaldi)
For this method, you have to be a bit more picky with your vegetables and the tools you use. Your zucchini, tomatoes, and eggplant should all be the same size, so when you slice them they are all uniform. If you can’t find an eggplant that is skinny, a regular eggplant will do, but you’ll have to cut the larger slices smaller so you can properly layer the vegetables. A sharp knife here is also key — without a sharp knife, slicing the vegetables will take longer, making this dish seem like it’s never going to prepared (and you haven’t even started to layer the vegetables yet). The tomatoes in this recipe also take some prep before you can slice them — they need to be blanched so they can be easily peeled.
🍅 Mediocre Tip: To easily peel your tomatoes, cut small crosses at the top and bottom of the tomato before blanching. When the skin starts to peel back, take the tomatoes out of the water and put them in ice water or run them under cold water to stop them from cooking.
🍅 Mediocre Tip: If you want to speed up the process of preparing the vegetables, use a mandoline. If you choose to use one, be very careful, as you can quite easily shave off a chunk of your finger. Let us say that again for all y’all reading this who think they’re hot shit: BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN USING A MANDOLINE! IT WILL FUCK YOU UP IF YOU DON’T RESPECT IT! Got it?
Once all of your vegetables are prepped (this can take a while if your knife skills are rusty or if you cut yourself on the mandoline), it’s time for the sauce! Place your roughly chopped red pepper, onion, some tomato, and any leftover zucchini and eggplant bits into a pot. Drizzle in some olive oil, sprinkle some salt, pepper, rosemary and/or thyme leaf, and of course toss in a few crushed cloves of garlic. Allow this to cook down for a bit, until everything is soft and almost on the cusp of being mushy.
Transfer the contents of your pot to a blender and blend everything until it’s a smooth homogeneous paste. You’ve just made a very weird red pepper soup, otherwise known as a piperade.
Congratulations, you’re only half done! 🎉 We’re finally ready to layer everything. Spread a thin layer of sauce on the base of your baking dish and get ready for the monotony: Eggplant, zucchini, tomato. Repeat. Purple, green, red. Repeat. Continue until your dish is filled — remember to keep the layers close together, so they are just peeking out from one another. The tighter the packing, the easier it will be to plate using a ring mould.
🍅 Mediocre Tip: If you can find a yellow zucchini in addition to a green zucchini, your dish will look even prettier!
Once the layering is done, lightly drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle some rosemary and/or thyme leaves on top. The final step is to place a cartouche on top and throw it in the oven for about an hour and a half. What’s a cartouche? It’s a fancy French word for a piece of parchment paper with a hole cut in it.
🍅 Mediocre Tip: Making a cartouche is super simple. Remember when you made paper snowflakes in elementary school? Same idea. Cut a piece of parchment paper to the size of your dish, fold it in half, fold it in half again, and then finally fold it diagonally. Cut the tip off, unfold, and boom! Cartouche.
Looks stunning in the dish (and when plated right)
Great dish to make it look like you know how to cook
Requires vegetables that are of similar size
Time consuming to slice and layer vegetables
Requires a ring mould for plating to look nice
More dishes to clean than the traditional style
Our Mediocre Thoughts
👨🍳 Trevor: Ratatouille is an interesting dish. I first saw the movie when I was young and I didn’t know much about it until I took up cooking not too long ago. I stumbled across a YouTube video of someone making it. It didn’t seem that difficult, so I went out, bought the ingredients, and made it myself. I made it again a few weeks later to see if it really was simple or if I had gotten lucky. I managed to slice my finger on my mandoline that time (seems to be a recurring theme here), and aside from the dull throbbing in the finger, the dish still tasted good.
One of the downsides to ratatouille is that it’s a very light dish — for me it’s not heavy enough to be a complete meal, and it’s too much of a pain in the ass (even the traditional way) for it to be a practical meal to make when you want something light — a salad or a simple charcuterie board would be easier. So it’s a dish I only really make when I want to either show off my cooking skills to someone, or want to use up leftover vegetables. It’s one of those recipes that I really want to love, but I just feel completely average about.
As a final note, we originally intended to make this post about going to your local farmer’s market to get ingredients for your recipes. So we bought all the produce for the Pixar version from the farmer’s market. We opted to buy all the produce for the traditional method from a regular supermarket in hopes that we would notice a difference. Spoiler alert: we did not. Should you buy produce from local farmers? Yes. Is it necessary? No.
👩🍳 Brittany: I was always told that eggplant was gross and smelly, so I always avoided recipes with eggplant. One day, I was feeling adventurous and bought a frozen vegetable mix that had eggplant in it. I baked it and… I was disappointed. It was soggy and gross, so I continued to avoid it. But eggplant in ratatouille? It’s delicious, and I’m glad Trevor convinced me to try it.
Would I make the Pixar-style ratatouille again? Probably not. It’s a lot of work, and although it looks pretty, I’d much rather make the traditional style (it’s fast and easy to make). I like cooking vegetarian meals at least twice a week, and I’ll definitely be adding ratatouille to the rotation! But when I’m feeling lazy (which is often) and want an even more simple recipe, I’ll make braised eggplant and tomatoes (it’s like ratatouille, without the zucchini). I made it one day because I had a leftover eggplant after making ratatouille with Trevor, and it was quite tasty!
Our Final Review
Taste: 5 eggplant emojis out of 5 🍆🍆🍆🍆🍆
Presentation: 2 participation ribbons out of 5 (on average) 🎀🎀
Affordability: 5 Euros out of 5 💶💶💶💶💶
Ratatouille is simply delicious. Vegetables, garlic, and herbs come together to create a savory dish. We’re rating ratatouille a 2/5 for presentation, which is the average for both recipes (traditional we rated 1 and Pixar-style we rated 3). However, we need to work on our plating skills. Confit Byaldi can definitely be a 5/5 dish! Of course, price depends on where you live, but overall the vegetables are pretty affordable if you’re buying from the grocery store. Buying at the farmer’s market will make this recipe more expensive, but overall it’s still an affordable meal to make.
What Can You Serve With Ratatouille?
We know, we know. Ratatouille is just vegetables! And it isn't the most filling meal (unless you eat multiple servings). Here are four ideas of what you can serve ratatouille with:
Pair it with any meat! A few ideas: chicken, a light fish, or even a pork roast.
Top crostini with ratatouille for a more filling meal.
Pair it with a couple fried eggs or an omelette.
Put ratatouille on top of a bowl of rice! Or serve with risotto.
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