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Variations on a Theme of Ratatouille

(post, Jean Henrich)

Like my feelings about minestrone soup, I think ratatouille is another one of those perfect all-in-one dishes to me: Great vegetable combination, hearty enough for a meal and a myriad different preparations.

My introduction came by way of a Cooking Light recipe that caught my fancy called Ratatouille Bake. It's ratatouille plus chick peas in a rice and feta cheese casserole. I had no idea what ratatouille was (even the movie was still years away); the ingredients just appealed to me. It's not the simplest of creations, and my attempts had mixed success. (It's fairly easy to end up with undercooked rice, which gives the dish an unpleasant crunch.) But when it did come out right, it was very tasty and fit my bill of a complete meal.

Later, I took the time to do some research online and found out what ratatouille actually was. I gathered a few recipes to try that had the traditional mix: eggplant, red bell pepper, zucchini, onion and tomato. The winner was an Epicurious version that makes a lot and is good warm or cold. The vegetables are cut into cubes and simply sauteed; aside from all the chopping, it is very easy to make. I presented it with success at a work potluck, a graduation buffet, and a family picnic. When I make it at home, it feeds us for a week.

But my research wasn't complete until I attempted the recipe from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." This was a challenge, especially since I didn't have quite the right dish to make it in. Julia's instructions call for cooking thick slices of each vegetable separately in a shallow dutch oven, then layering the ingredients and baking to finish. Of course, it took a fair amount of time to prepare, so it won't become part of the regular rotation. But it had a good texture and excellent flavor.