For those of you living under a rock, Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille is the hottest movie of the summer. It’s about a rat named Remy who lives in Paris who’s fantasy is to be a four-star chef. The obvious Department of Health issues aside, it’s a great animated film, and some food writers are already calling it the best restaurant and chef movie ever made. I’m not sure I agree exactly with that sentiment — I can think of some other movies that might be worthy of that title, such as Big Night or Tampopo. Nevertheless, I really liked the film, and like many food bloggers and anyone who has seen the movie, I was fascinated by the actual “Ratatouille” dish, Confit Byaldi, which was formulated by Chef Thomas Keller (of French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon fame) for the movie.
As it turns out, Confit Byaldi isn’t expensive or particularly complicated to make, but it does require some dedication, as it has some prep involved and it takes two and a half hours to cook. But if you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll definitely be rewarded with what I think is one of the best summer vegetable dishes you can possibly make. And God knows for those of us that live in New Jersey or other parts of the world and have home gardens, a great way to get rid of all that Zucchini.
Confit Byaldi was formulated by Chef Thomas Keller as the “Ratatouille” in Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille.
You don’t need an animated vermin that sounds like Patton Oswald to cook this wonderful dish for you. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.
The actual recipe for Confit Byaldi as Thomas Keller formulated it is at the New York Times website. Rachel and I made a few minor modifications, and we think it comes closer to what was actually depicted in the film.
First, you’ll need to gather the key ingredients — Asian (Japanese) eggplant, Yellow Squash, and Zucchini. Obviously, you could use other types of edible squashes and they all taste pretty much the same, but these are the ones used in the movie. The key is, they have to be the long, narrow kind, so you can slice them up nice and thin and can layer them uniformly in the casserole. You’ll also need fresh tomatoes. Here, we’ve got the Holland vine-ripened tomatoes — our Jersey tomatoes aren’t quite ready yet. Keller’s recipe calls for plum tomatoes, but any nice fresh ripe tomato (not too ripe, or it will break down completely) will do nicely.
You’ll also need one large can of of tomatoes. We’re using Fire Roasted organic tomatoes here, but you could use Italian tomatoes like the nice San Marzano ones grown in volcanic soil near Mt. Vesuvius, or domestic canned tomatoes from one of the better brands. Stay away from the ones which have seasonings in it. You want just plain tomatoes. Keller’s recipe does not call for canned tomatoes, as he is doing a Piperade, a mostly chopped pepper-based, not pureed sauce. You could certainly use all fresh tomatoes, if they were nice and ripe, but you will not get the concentration of tomato confit flavor in the end results.
You will also need a bell pepper, any color will do. The greens are a lot cheaper than the colored ones. Keller’s recipe calls for 1/2 a Red, 1/2 an Orange and 1/2 a Yellow pepper. Because we are going to roast, chop, and then puree the peppers in the sauce, rather than finely chop the peppers and have a traditional “Piperade” like Keller has with visible peppers in it, I didn’t think it made sense to get these expensive, colorful peppers. The film actually deviates from the Keller recipe because the sauce appears to be pureed in the final scenes, and I wanted to match the look of the dish in the film, not the dish that Keller actually formulated.
Roast your pepper directly on the burner until all the skin becomes black, and then put it in a plastic container to steam — the skin will then come off very easily. If you have an electric burner, try roasting the pepper directly under the broiler. Your toaster oven has a broiler setting that will work with this, but you’ll need to turn the pepper over as it cooks to burn off the skin.
Next, you’ll need to chop up a mirepoix. Keller’s recipe does not call for a traditional mirepoix, but we had the vegetables lying around and traditional French aromatics are not going to hurt any dish, particularly a tomato sauce. A mirepoix is simply finely chopped onion, celery and carrot. One of each vegetable is fine. To this, you’ll add your chopped roasted bell pepper, and two chopped cloves of garlic.
Sweat the mirepoix in a large or heavy saucepan until the onions turn translucent (we’re using a Le Creuset, the new Staub pots are really nice too) in cooking grade olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the canned (or fresh, whatever you prefer) chopped tomatoes to your sweated mirepoix. You’ll also want to add whatever fresh herbs you have lying around. We used chopped parsley, basil (lemon basil), thyme, rosemary and a bay leaf. The first three of those are Herbes de Provence, the classic dried herb spicing to a traditional ratatouille. Rachel says you probably shouldn’t use regular Italian basil or oregano, as you want this to taste French, not Italian. Although, one of the main characters in the film, Linguini, is an Italian, so in that case, do whatever you want.
Simmer the sauce at medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t scorch on the bottom. After the sauce finishes cooking, remove any visible twigs of herb remaining (like rosemary and bay leaves).
Spoon the sauce into your blender. We’re using a Vita-Mix here, which really does a great job of pureeing sauces. Add a sprinkle (about 1/2 a teaspoon) of Balsamic Vinegar, blend some more, and taste for saltiness and acidity. There should be a bit of acidic punch to this sauce, so add more Balsamic if necessary. Remember when you cook this down in the casserole later, the flavor is going to be intensified, and you are going to be serving a vinaigrette on top of the plated dish.
Next, we’re going to need to wash and then slice up our vegetables. You’re either going to need to have really good knife skills so you can thinly slice the veggies, or you’re going to need a mandoline. The one we have here is the OXO mandoline, which is not that expensive and works pretty well. Another good choice is the Benriner which is made by Kyocera, and Zyliss also makes a decent one too (and is a favorite of Alton Brown). Obviously the classic Bron is what chefs swear by, but it’s a bit of an expensive toy ($100-$150) for home chefs that only use something like this occasionally.
Without cutting your fingers off, slice up your Zucchini and Yellow Squash, using the 1/8th of an inch or 1/16th of an inch setting of your mandoline. You could also slice up the Asian Eggplant this way, but we actually got better results from hand slicing it with a sharp knife. You’ll also want to make thin circular slices of tomato as well, using a sharp knife — the mandoline won’t work.
Spread an even layer of pureed sauce along the bottom of your casserole. If you find that you’ve got a lot of sauce left, don’t worry, we can use it in the “ugly” ratatouille we’re going to make with the leftover veggies.
Layer the Zucchini, Eggplant, Tomato and Yellow Squash in a fan-shaped spiral pattern along the bottom of your casserole. If you have too many vegetables left over, either make a second batch with another casserole, or make an “ugly” version with the less pretty slices by simply sauteeing the vegetables in olive oil and simmering it in the leftover sauce for at traditional ratatouille. It makes a great omelette filling.
Make a mixture of 2Tbsp of olive oil, chopped garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper, and sprinkle it over the top of the casserole.
Cover the casserole with foil.
Bake at 275 degrees for two hours. After the cooking has finished, remove the foil, and then continue baking for another half an hour.
Voila. The finished dish. Plate portions with a spatula, rotating on a 90 degree turn in order to get a fan-like effect, as in the very first photo. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chopped herbs.
The leftover vegetables can be sauteed and then simmered with the leftover sauce to make traditional ratatouille, which makes a great omelet filling.