When I came up with the idea for #tbtfood, I envisioned a reinventing of some of the laughable and odd-sounding dishes from the mid-century: quivering Jell-o molds holding suspended an upsetting array of chopped vegetables and meats; casseroles made with condensed cream of this or that soup (or this and that); recipes where Spam figures prominently. You’ll see plenty of that (hello, Cherry Yum Yum and Supreme Dessert), but #tbt food can also mean food that takes us back. The food that, with just one whiff of the aroma let alone bite, transports you to another place and time.
Consider this scene as Anton Ego, voiced by the late, great Peter O’Toole, takes his first bite of “Remy’s” (Thomas Keller’s) elevated ratatouille, Confit Biyaldi.
They get it just right. It’s an immediate snap back to the past.
Thomas Keller’s confit contains tomato and red pepper sauce, impossibly thinly cut vegetables and a vinaigrette to finish it off. Some authorities insist that the dish be layered, with at least some of the vegetables cooked separately before being layered all together. Other folks are adamant that every component be cooked separately.
My preparation was simple. It took a very long time, but it was very simple. Soften aromatics. Add the rest, season it and put it in the oven. And let me say right up front that I started with the ratatouille recipe from Saveur Magazine. You don’t even have to squint at my recipe to see that it is based on theirs. I altered it a bit and I radically altered the cooking and finishing methods, but still. And because most folks like Things in Crusts, I made ratatouille hand pies out of it. Because what elevates an already comforting food into a whole other plane of comfort? Adding a crust.
Of course, it is completely fine to leave the crust out of the equation and serve the ratatouille with a nice crusty bread. You could even pile room temperature ratatouille on some ciabatta or something and make a pressed sandwich for a picnic. I’ll give you the recipe for the crust, too. It’s from a cookbook I reviewed awhile back, Stuffed: The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook by Dan Whelan. I added salt to his basic recipe and made it in the food processor rather than by hand (weird for me, but there you have it).
Most ratatouille is slow food. This particular one is very slow food. It’s amazing to me that you can take a medley of summer vegetables and cook them down with simple seasonings into a rich, hearty stew. This is a great dish to serve for Meatless Monday. It has a depth of umami flavor that is so satisfying, even steak and potatoes folks might not miss the meat.
Simple food made well feeds the body and the soul. Feed yourself and your family with ratatouille, simple slow food.
For the Ratatouille
- 1/2 cup good, , fruity olive oil
- 2 medium onions, , diced
- 6 cloves of garlic, , peeled and smashed
- 1 Tablespoon dried Herbes de Provence, , crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, , to taste (season as you go. Taste as you go. Don't skimp on the salt)
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, , drained well
- 1 medium eggplant, , diced
- 1 medium zucchini, , diced
- 1 medium summer squash, , diced
- 2 medium bell peppers, , not green (red, yellow and/or orange)
- 1 Tablespoon each chopped fresh basil and flat-leaf parsley
For the Dough
- 210 grams all purpose flour, (about 1 3/4 cup)
- 1 stick unsalted butter, , cut into 8 pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 80 ml cold water
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon water
For the Ratatouille
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, combine the olive oil, onion, garlic, Herbes de Provence, bay leaf and a healthy dose of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened, about ten minutes.
- Add the rest of the ingredients except the basil and parsley, seasoning with more salt and pepper as you go.
- Turn the burner on high and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Transfer the Dutch oven to the preheated oven and cook until the vegetables have cooked way down and released so much juice it almost looks like soup, stirring every 30 minutes or so.
- Strain the juices into another large pan and boil to reduce by 75%. You want it to be very thick and syrupy and intensely flavored.
- Allow the vegetables to sit in the strainer over the original pan, and every once in awhile, pour any other liquid that drains out into the pan of reducing liquid.
- Stir the reduced juices back into the vegetables. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
- Stir in the basil and parsley.
- If filling hand pies/pot pies, etc, cool and chill. Otherwise, serve at whatever temperature you'd like.
For the Dough
- Put the flour, salt and butter in the bowl of your food processor.
- Pulse about 10 times, until the butter is all in small pieces--there should be no big lumps. The larges pieces should be no larger than say a cooked lentil.
- Beat the water and egg together and pour it evenly over the flour mixture.
- Run the food processor until the dough comes together in a ball and circles around a couple of times. This might take 10 seconds. Maybe less.
- The dough will be somewhat sticky, but just leave it alone.
- Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour or up to 3-4 hours.
To Make the Hand Pies or Pot Pies
- Flour your work surface and knead the refrigerated dough a few times, until it is smooth. 3-4 turns is all you need.
- Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. I weigh my dough and divide by the number of portions I need. For this dough, I find that I can scale out to about 56 grams to get 8 pieces.
- Roll each piece into a ball and then roll out into circles about 6"-7" in diameter, about the size of "taco sized" tortillas.
- Place about 1/4 cup of filling in the center of the dough.
- Wet 1/2 of the edge of the dough and fold the dry edge up and over the filling, pressing the two edges together to make half-circles. Seal by pressing all around the edge with the tines of a fork to seal.
- For pot pies, scoop the filling into your oven-safe container and top with a round of dough. You can brush a bit of water on the rim of the container to help the dough stick, but it's okay if it doesn't. You can either trim the dough so only about 1/2" hangs over all around or you can crimp it. You should be able to get the idea from the photos.
- Beat the egg and water together to make an egg wash.
- Brush the dough lightly with the egg wash and bake until deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. I rotate the pan halfway through the baking time.
- Let rest for about 10 minutes if serving hot. Otherwise, cool to warm or room temperature.
I am pretty certain you will love the ratatouille on its own, and that your heart will sing when you enjoy it in a ratatouille hand pie or pot pie. Please take note: since the flavorings are so simple, make sure you’re using enough salt. If it seems bland to you at all, add some more salt.
What dishes snap you right back to childhood? You may inspire a future edition of #tbtfood!
Thanks so much for spending some time here today. Have a lovely day.