Monday, September 17, 2012

Thomas Keller's Ratatouille

Thomas Keller, famed chef and owner of The French Laundry, Per Se, Ad Hock, and Bouchon, was the food consultant for Pixar to help create the signature dish for their 2007 film, Ratatouille. Keller's upscale layered variation of ratatouille (actually called confit byaldi) they used for the film has been floating around cyber space for ages, but I've just now gotten around to cooking it. Aaron and I are huge Pixar fans and have seen almost every one of their films in theaters (often on opening night). I even dressed as WALL-E for Halloween a few years ago- so fun! 

After Ratatouille first came out I searched for the recipe, but to no avail. It wasn't until a couple years ago that I thought to look for it again, and low and behold, it was all over the internet. As you can imagine I was very pleased.

Anytime we bring up Ratatouille (the movie or the dish), Aaron and I can't help quoting the film. We particularly love it when the terrifying food critic, Anton Ego, is asked what he would like for dinner and exclaims: "Surprise me!" I find myself saying, "surprise me," in Anton's deep, menacing voice even to questions that don't warrant that response (I just like the way it sounds). *SPOILER ALERT* In the end, Remy the rat does in fact surprise Anton with the humble yet elegant peasant dish you see before you, flooding Anton's thoughts with fond childhood memories of his mother cooking ratatouille at home. I nearly cry every time! Every time.

Ratatouille is such a simple yet delicious Provencal dish. It celebrates summer's bounty by using tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash- so much veg! Slicing the vegetables paper thin elevates the ratatouille to a more sophisticated level, while cooking it in a cast iron skillet still gives it that rustic feel. Yes, slicing the vegetables takes some time, but relax, have a glass of wine, listen to some music, and enjoy the meditative process (if you have a mandoline, use it for the squash!). It's definitely worth the wait and so much fun to eat!

We loved this dish so much, I've made it several times in the past month. After a trip to the Santa Cruz farmer's market while visiting family in California a couple weeks ago, I made this dish for my brother and sister-in-law. I cooked the tomato and pepper base, arranged the sliced veggies, and refrigerated it for them to enjoy a lovely "no cook" home cooked meal in the days after we left. With my ADORABLE little niece running around leaving them little time to cook, all they had to do was pop it in the oven and dinner was served. In fact, if you're making this dish for company, you can prepare it a day in advance as I did for my brother. When ready to bake, simply heat the dish up on the stovetop over medium heat until warm and place it in the oven. Served with a lovely green salad and couscous or quinoa, this ratatouille can easily serve four. As vegetables are the star of this dish, and there's no butter in the recipe, this is a perfect option for a vegetarian or vegan dinner. 

Slightly adapted from Thomas Keller

½ red pepper, seeds and ribs removed
½ yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed
½ orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed
5 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1½ tsp. minced garlic (or more to taste), divided
½ yellow onion, finely diced (about ½ cup)
1 28-oz. can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, seeded and chopped, juices reserved (or 3 to 4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, juices reserved)
2 sprigs fresh thyme (plus 1 extra sprig for sprinkling) 
1 sprig Italian parsley
1 small bay leaf
1 zucchini (about 7 to 8 oz.), sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 Japanese eggplant (7 to 8 oz), sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 yellow summer squash (7 to 8 oz.), sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
4 to 5 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
1 to 2 tsp. aged balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place the peppers cut-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast until their skins loosen and begin to brown slightly, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely. 

Combine 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. garlic, and the onion in an 8-inch cast iron skillet (or other ovenproof skillet), over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, their juices, 2 sprigs thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Simmer over medium-low heat until very little liquid remains, about 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful not to brown.

Add the peppers and simmer for a couple of minutes to soften them. Season to taste with salt and discard herbs. Reserve 1 to 2 tbsp. of the mixture for the vinaigrette, leaving the rest in the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.

Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees F. Starting from the outer edge of the pan and working your way in, arrange alternating slices of zucchini, eggplant, yellow squash, and Roma tomatoes. Allow the slices to overlap so that about ¼-inch of each slice is exposed. Repeat until the pan is filled.

Sprinkle the pan with the remaining garlic and the leaves from the remaining sprig of thyme. Drizzle with 2 tbsp. olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Cover the pan with foil and seal well. Bake until the vegetables are tender, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. If the pan has accumulated any excess liquid after baking, carefully drain it off. 

To make the vinaigrette, combine the reserved tomato and pepper mixture with the remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle around plate and serve hot. 

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

  • Look for vegetables that are similar in size, which makes arranging them in the pan easier and more uniform.
  • Feel free to puree the tomato and pepper mixture with the balsamic in a blender to create a smoother vinaigrette. You can also omit the vinaigrette altogether and simply drizzle each plate or serving with a few drops of balsamic.
  • When serving, use a cake spatula for ease in lifting the veggies out of the pan and plating.
  • If you have any leftover veggie slices that didn't fit in the pan, use them in a frittata or vegetable stir-fry. 


  1. I watched this movie last night! Ah this looks so good, I must make this soon! Haha so simple but so amazing

  2. Thanks Sarah- it takes a little elbow grease and patience, but it's well worth the wait!

  3. What a beautiful dish, love it !!!!!

    1. Thanks Pimnara B! I can't wait to make it again when everything's back in season!

  4. Nice dish, but the 'squash' was misleading as i bought a butternut squash, the whole recipe delayed our dinner :(

    1. Big difference between yellow summer squash and butternut squash!

  5. Add peppers? Which peppers? All? Including red?