Simplicity. This dish is the embodiment of it. The four components – sliced vegetables, blended sauce, a cast iron skillet, and the oven – create a finished meal that looks like a professional made it. And who's to say you're not a professional, right?
Every time we make ratatouille, the most amazing phenomenon occurs. So amazing, in fact, that it's probably my favorite part about making the dish.
About halfway through the cooking time, the entire apartment – or house, or shoebox, or basement, or wherever we happen to be living at the moment – overflows with the comforting aromas of this dish. It's indescribable, really. All I can say is that I wish that I could bottle this scent, or maybe make it into a candle, and give it to people at Christmas.
As the squash cooks down, it turns sweet and soft. Meanwhile, the red pepper, tomato, garlic, and onion melt together, mixing with the herbs and becoming the sauce. Stubborn ol' eggplant takes a little longer to cook, but that's just more time for the rest of the flavors to get to know each other. And all of it happens right there in your cast iron skillet.
When we made ratatouille for the first time, we were still living in Brooklyn in an apartment building. To this day, I'm surprised that we didn't have 40 of our neighbors lined up down the hall, knocking on our door to ask for the recipe. Then again, they were probably too busy dragging their laundry back-and-forth to the corner laundromat or waiting for the next 4 train to arrive.
I'm not ashamed to admit it: the animated movie was what inspired us to make this dish for the first time last fall. [Yes, last fall. Clearly, this recipe has been a long time in the making.] BUT – Lots of experimenting and lots of perfecting went into this dish. And that's because we wanted to take the things that we loved most about ratatouille and make them even better, for you, of course!
But, back to Brooklyn again, the mind-blowing ratatouille scent floated out of our windows, into the courtyard and into the hallways of our building. I am certain that NO other dish smells as good as ratatouille does; not even pizza or pasta or chocolate chip cookies. There's no way I can describe it with words, you'll just have to wait until you make it for yourself.
It's hard to believe that this was considered a peasant's meal in the "olden days" in France. Squash, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, and onion grew in abundance in small gardens. Naturally, farm families made the best of what they had. Hence, ratatouille.
Little did all the rich folks know, while they thought they were living it up with their lamb chops, paté, and champagne – poor people were enjoying one of the greatest dishes known to man. Bon appétit!