Ratatouille

Originally published at the normality factor. You can comment here or there.

As requested, here is my ratatouille recipe as I concocted it last night.  As a special bonus, I’m going to include some pictures of the second stage “how to”.  (Yes, I’m writing this for a few beginners, too.)  Kids love it, and you don’t even have to tell them it’s squash.

Ratatouille Ellis

Ratatouille as presented

SERVED!

Ingredients:

  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 ounces sliced white cap mushrooms (or two diced caps of Portabello mushrooms)
  • 2 tablespoons (minimum) minced garlic
  • 1 large or 2 medium yellow squash, diced large
  • 1 large or 2 medium zucchini, diced large
  • 1 reasonably sized eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 6 ripe Roma tomatoes (or 3-4 medium “regular” tomatoes)
  • fresh basil leaves sliced thin (to taste – I used about an ounce and a half by volume)
  • 2 to 3 raw skinless boneless chicken breasts, diced (around 1 to 1.5 pounds)
  • 4 ounces (by weight) raw baby spinach, sliced and/or chopped medium
  • 4 ounces (at least) of your favorite meltable white cheese – we used Muenster last night, but have used other Italian blends, mozzarella, Monterey Jack…
  • a little extra olive oil for greasing the casserole
  • Kosher salt, pepper, thyme, and other savory spices

Equipment and Methods:

You will need:

  • A 6-qt Dutch oven or similar large pot
  • A casserole dish of substance

You will need to know how to:

  • chop and dice
  • saute

This will take about this much time:

  • Prep (chopping): 10-20 minutes
  • Stage 1 (on the stove): 25-35 minutes
  • Stage 2 (in the oven): 40-45 minutes
  • Stage 3 (letting sit): 10 minutes
  • Total time on the average:  about an hour and a half, maybe two hours.
  • No, this is not a “quick” recipe, but once you get the pattern, it is an “easy” recipe.  It’s also totally worth the extra effort of getting an early start.

Instructions:

  1. Unless you have a massive amount of experience chopping quickly, you’re going to want to pre-chop as much as you can.  Also, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 deg C).
  2. Heat your olive oil over a medium heat in the large pot, and when you can feel the heat prickling your palm from a few inches above the bottom, add the onions and mushrooms with a sprinkle of salt.  Cook until the onions are transparent and just starting to get a little bit of color.
  3. Add the garlic, stir well, let cook for about two minutes or so, and then add the yellow squash and zucchini.  Stir well, let this cook for a few minutes (you’ll see them start to soften), then add the eggplant, and after a few more minutes, add the tomatoes, basil, and any other spices.  Continue cooking over medium to medium-low heat, stirring regularly.  This is the point when you want to taste-test it to make sure you have the flavor right to your palate.  The taste will be something like a tomato sauce with lots of garden-y goodness in there.
  4. This is the core recipe.  It’s going to develop it’s own juices – you do not need to add any extra water or broth – and it will start to mingle all of those wonderful flavors together!  After a good ten to fifteen minutes, add the chicken and stir it in well.  (As another side-note, you can use sausage instead for an even more rustic flavor.  I wouldn’t recommend straight beef, though, as it’ll really only cook long enough to make the beef tough.)
  5. The chicken does NOT have to cook all the way through!  In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t at this point, or you’ll end up with little bits of chicken leather throughout your ratatouille!  Oil the casserole dish with some olive oil, and then pour the whole contents of the Dutch oven into the casserole dish.
  6. Pat the ratatouille into the casserole dish, like so:
    Ratatouille in the baking dish

    Ratatouille in the baking dish

  7. Bake this at 375 deg F for about 30 minutes.  If your casserole dish was struggling to contain the bursting goodness of this mound of yummy awesomeness, you might want to put a sheet pan under it to keep the juices from smoking up on the bottom of the oven.
  8. At the end of the time, there should be a bit of browning on top.  Take the casserole dish out of the oven – but don’t turn the oven off!  This is where we do our happy garnishing!

    Ratatouille and spinach

    Sprinkle the fresh chopped spinach over the ratatouille…

    Ratatouille with spinach and cheese

    … sprinkle your favorite grated cheese liberally over the spinach…

    Ratatouille ready for the oven!

    … and garnish if you like with a little flair!

    Throw it all back in the oven and let bake for about another five minutes.  That’s all the time it’ll need to blanch the spinach, melt the cheese, and maybe even start browning a little bit.

  9. Here is the excruciating part:  When the ratatouille is out of the oven, you need to let it sit for about ten minutes.  And this is what you’ll be staring at during the longest ten minutes of your life:
    Ratatouille out of the oven

    Notice that the cheese wasn't pushed all the way to the edge. This is so that you don't end up with burning cheese in your meal.

  10. This particular recipe with the eggplant, mushrooms and chicken will actually create a very tasty broth that can be enjoyed with a nice baguette or just eaten with a spoon (or slurped from the bowl, which is what happens most often).

As an interesting side-note, it is very easy to make this vegetarian (leave out the meat) and even vegan (leave out the meat and cheese) without losing any of the flavor.  You can leave out the mushrooms, you can add in asparagus around the time you’d be putting in the chicken (very tasty, by the way), you can change up the meat – whatever your heart desires!  You can even add a little Panko to the top to give it a good crunch, but then it ceases to also be “gluten-free”.

To clarify for those of you who will obviously note that those beautiful, gorgeous maple counter tops in the pictures definitely bear no resemblance to the ones in my current kitchen, you’re absolutely right.  Those pictures were taken during a previous preparation of Ratatouille Ellis.

Tune in tomorrow when I do a “Food Is Love” analysis of this ultimate comfort food.  And now, I leave you with this:

Ratatouille as presented

SERVED!

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