Thursday, August 15, 2019

Remy's Ratatouille (Confit Byaldi)

Everyone who has seen the movie Ratatouille remembers that iconic scene towards the end when cynical food critic Anton Ego dines at Gusteau's and takes his first bite of the movie's namesake dish, ratatouille. That moment is one of my favorite cinematic moments ever, as it perfectly captures the nostalgia that a single bite of food can offer its diner.

Traditional ratatouille is a simple, rustic dish of stewed zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes, but world-renowned, three-Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller created a much more refined version of the dish especially for the movie, for which he served as a food consultant.

Thinly sliced zucchini, summer squash, Japanese eggplant, and tomatoes are arranged in a gorgeously colorful pattern atop a bed of piperade, a tomato and bell pepper sauce. Although you could certainly use a single color bell pepper, the variety of red, yellow, and orange creates a beautiful compliment to the rest of the dish. I think it was worth it, but you could easily use 1 1/2 red bell peppers if you can't source the other colors.

So here's the deal. Mandolins scare the every-loving crap out of me. For real. I own one. It lives in the basement, practically untouched. I dug it out for the purposes of slicing up my vegetables, braved my fingers while I sliced the zucchini and summer squash, but didn't like the way it was slicing my Japanese eggplant, and switched over to a super sharp knife instead.

To be honest, I preferred the way the eggplant slices turned out anyway. I used the knife to slice my tomatoes as well. In all honestly, I yielded way more sliced vegetables than necessary for this recipe. I didn't even slice the entire eggplant or zucchini, both of which were larger than 4 ounces each, and I now have a tupperware full of extra veggies which I will use for another purpose (probably a stove-top ratatouille). With that said, I could have easily made this dish in a slightly larger pan than my 9-inch skillet, as there was also plenty of piperade where I could have spread it out in a slightly thinner layer if necessary.

This is a time-consuming recipe, mostly because it bakes for 2 1/2 hours not counting the time to make the piperade, slice the vegetables, etc. It can easily serve as a vegetarian (technically vegan) main dish or side dish, and can technically be served hot or cold. It's even better the next day if you're willing to be patient. I particularly like the vinaigrette component as the tiny bit of balsamic lends a nice acidic note to the dish.

Here is an artist rendering of my actual face when I took my first bite...

It's really that good! There is so much concentrated flavor, and the practically paper-thin vegetables simply melt in your mouth. For a considerably light dish, it has a certain decadence to it, a richness, an intensity that can only come from a low-and-slow approach. Friends, I encourage you to hit up your local farmer's market, your garden, your supermarket, honestly anywhere you can buy these ingredients, and treat yourself to something special! Bon appetit mes amis!

Confit Byaldi
Serves 2 to 4
(Slightly Adapted from Recipe by Thomas Keller)

1/2 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3 tomatoes (about 12 ounces total weight), peeled, seeded, and finely diced, juices reserved
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1 small bay leaf
Kosher salt

1 green zucchini (4 oz), sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 Japanese eggplant (4 oz), sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 yellow summer squash (4 oz),  sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
3 Roma tomatoes, sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and stem discarded
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Assorted fresh herbs (thyme flowers, chervil, thyme)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For piperade, heat oven to 450 degrees F. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely.

Combine oil, garlic, and onion in medium skillet over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes, do not brown; add peppers and simmer to soften them. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Reserve 1 tablespoon of mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 8-to-9-inch oven-proof skillet (I used a 9-inch All-Clad French skillet, had plenty of piperade and more than enough vegetables to use a larger skillet or baking dish next time).

For vegetables, heat oven to 275 degrees F. Starting from the outside working inward, arrange alternating slices of vegetables over piperade, overlapping so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed. Repeat until pan is filled; all vegetables may not be needed.

Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.) If there is excess liquid in pan, place over medium heat on stove until reduced. (At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in 350 degree oven until warm.)

For vinaigrette, combine reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

To serve, heat broiler and place byaldi underneath until lightly browned. Slice in quarters and very carefully lift onto plate with offset spatula. Turn spatula 90 degrees, guiding byaldi into fan shape. Drizzle vinaigrette around plate. Serve hot.


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