using the same combination of vegetables, the French can take credit
for the dish. The word “ratatouille” comes from ratatolha, a name originated around Provence and Nice, and touiller,
French for tossing around. While it may be a French invention,
ratatouille appears in many other cuisines, with a few regional tweaks.
The Sicilian caponata becomes a sweet/sour dish by adding sugar and red
wine vinegar to the basic ingredients, along with celery, olives and
Central Europeans put ethnic names on
their versions of ratatouille. Hungarians call it lecso, Czechs and
Slovaks say leco, Germans dub the dish letscho, while Poles say leczo.
Originally a Hungarian dish that made its way around Cental Europe,
lecso is a thick, vegetable stew cooked with lard or bacon, and ideally
containing sweet yellow Hungarian peppers and paprika.
Mediterranean Chicken: Randall Coleman’s creation brings Continental flair to Camillus’ Inn Between Restaurant. MATT MUMAU PHOTO
The Spanish have pisto manchego,
Romanians eat ghiveci, the Greeks call their dish briami, which
typically includes potatoes. Turks call their melange imam bayildi,
roughly translated into “the Imam fainted.” Croats add salted sardines
Using the basic French ratatouille
recipe—sauteeing or roasting the vegetables—the dish is a vegan’s
dream, carrying lots of nutrients for about 300 calories per serving.
Hearty and tasty, it can stand by itself or, better yet, pair well with
pasta or couscous, be rolled into a crepe or grilled in a panini. Add a
sprinkling of grated cheese, or even include almonds or raisins for
added crunch or sweetness.
If you have a yen for ratatouille while dining out,
you’ll be largely out of luck locally, with two exceptions. Randall
Coleman, co-owner and supporting chef at the Inn Between, 2290 W.
Genesee Turnpike, Camillus (672-3166), suggests the restaurant’s
Mediterranean chicken, a blending of ratatouille ingredients, layered
over pasta, then finished with a grilled chicken breast.
Coleman has always experimented with
ratatouille ingredients. “The procedure I like to use is to saute
onions, garlic, eggplant, zucchini and/or summer squash and a color
assortment of peppers in hot olive oil to give them a good sear, then
add diced tomatoes and their juice, bay leaf and thyme and allow the
mixture to simmer slowly until the vegetables are tender, about 30
minutes. Season with parsley or fresh basil, salt and pepper.”
The chef suggests additions to the basic
dish, including topping with grated Parmigiano-Romano cheese, or making
it into a heartier dish by including Italian sausage.
Coleman also describes the preparation
of eggplant. “Eggplant is a very spongy vegetable that, if added early
in the process, will absorb a great amount of oil,” he explains. “The
old school of thought was to heavily salt the eggplant, rinse it and
squeeze it dry, but the latest thought seems to be to lightly salt it
and blanch it, covered in a microwave oven, as this accomplishes the
same goal of not absorbing so much oil.” Some cooks opt to eliminate
the entire process altogether, unless the eggplant is old or has many
Richard Simmons (not the TV health
guru), executive sous chef at the Civic Center Café, located on the
lower level of the Mulroy Civic Center, 411 Montgomery St., does it the
easy way. “I just dice all the vegetables together, spread them out on
a pan, drizzle with a little olive oil and bake everything until
tender,” he explains. “It is a very popular luncheon side dish, and I
expect to feature it through Thanksgiving.”
Julia Child, who brought French cooking
to Americans, insisted on cooking each element separately before
arranging it in a casserole “to partake of a brief communal simmer.”
Child’s recipe is a rather tedious one; she insists on the ingredients
separately cooked to retain each vegetable’s own shape and character.
Child also emphasizes salting the eggplant to remove any bitterness,
and also to prevent the vegetable from retaining too much oil when
sauteed. Her preparation time is about two hours.
Originally a working class stew, ratatouille attained new heights with the 2007 Disney-Pixar animated movie Ratatouille.
Remy, the star of the movie, sets his dreams of being a chef, but since
he is a rat, he has to work incognito, hiding inside the toque of his
bumbling buddy, chef Linguini. The pompous food critic, August Gusteau,
voiced by Peter O’Toole, noted for closing restaurants with his
ranting, negative reviews, is brought to his heels by a serving of Remy
and Linguini’s ratatouille, which took Gusteau back to the memorable
tastes of his childhood.
Thomas Keller, chef-owner of the
acclaimed French Laundry restaurant, in Yountville, Calif., was
commissioned to oversee the workings of the movie’s kitchen, and came
up with his own version of ratatouille, a spectacular visual
presentation of paper-thin vegetables stacked like a sculpture, proving
that simple, natural and fresh ingredients, no matter how they are
presented, will win out every time.
Here are two different recipes for ratatouille. You may want to experiment with the herbs used to vary the flavor of the stew.
Chef Randall Coleman’s Mediterranean Chicken Ratatouille
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
½ medium red pepper, diced
½ medium yellow pepper, diced
½ medium green pepper, diced
1 small zucchini, seeded and diced
1 small yellow squash, seeded and diced
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon thyme
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 pound cooked pasta (fusilli or cellentani)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3 ounces olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 ounce crumbled Feta cheese
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
For ratatouille: Heat olive oil in pot.
Add garlic, onions, peppers, zucchini and squash. Saute until tender
and crisp. Turn heat to low. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme. Cover
with lid and cook very slowly until vegetables are tender, about 30
minutes. Remove bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Stir in basil
and mix with hot, cooked pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and keep
For vinaigrette: Combine all
ingredients. Set aside. Grill each chicken breast, basting with half of
the vinaigrette while grilling. Cook until done. Place chicken breast
on pasta and cover with remaining vinaigrette. Makes 4 servings.
From the first Moosewood Cookbook,
published in 1977 by Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, Calif. The book
spirited the Ithaca restaurant’s vegetarian-based fare by chef Mollie
Katzen into instant notoriety. Katzen diligently hand-wrote this first
endeavor, which has been followed by many others for avid vegetarians.
1 medium onion chopped
2 medium bell peppers, diced
2 small zucchini, cubed (or summer squash, or a combination)
1 small eggplant, cubed
4 cloves crushed garlic
2 medium tomatoes, in chunks
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon each: basil and marjoram
½ teaspoon oregano
Dash of ground rosemary
3 tablespoons Burgundy (or dry red wine of your choice)
½ tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons salt (approximately)
Black pepper to taste
¼ cup olive oil
Freshly chopped parsley
Heat olive oil in large, heavy cooking
pot. Crush the garlic into the oil. Add bay leaf and onion. Saute over
medium heat until onion begins to turn transparent. Add eggplant, wine
and tomato paste. Add herbs. Stir to mix well, then cover and simmer 10
to 15 minutes over low heat. When eggplant is tender enough to be
easily pricked by a fork, add zucchini and peppers. Cover and simmer 20
minutes. Add salt and pepper and tomatoes. Mix well. Continue to stew
until all vegetables are tender. Just before serving, mix in the fresh
Serve on a bed of rice, or accompanied by some good French bread. Top with grated cheese and chopped black olives, if desired.