My father dearest turns 49 today! One year away from being half a century old ;) Despite my plans to serve courses, my dad had a craving for soy braised fish and was adamant on cooking some Chinese vegetable stirfries. He also thought that I should take it slow and not be too ambitious when cooking for a large number of people for the first time. Well, he did have a point there... We had invited my grandparents and uncle over as well because they have been cooking dinner for us very often lately! And it was about time they got to relax. Out of the dishes that I did cook, I'm definitely the proudest of my ratatouille and my spaghetti with a ragout of oriental mushrooms.
I did particular love this Pixar film. What's not to love about an adorable rat who can cook? Though in real life, I don't think any rat could be adorable. Even if it could cook. Ah how cartoons can make even the most ugliest of animals cute in some way. Anyway, I digress.
This dish is actually quite easy to make and the vegetables become so soft from the long braising process in the oven. For a dish so simple, I found it extremely delicious and satisfying. The hardest part was probably the layering but once I got going, I got into the rhythm of things and found myself in a state of nirvana almost ;)
Thomas Keller's original recipe for the movie is more complicated than mine and you can find it here. But I thought I'd go with something more simple before attempting his version. Instead, I adapted a recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen.
an original recipe by Crystal Noir
2 VERY small onions (probably half a normal sized onion), sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup tomato puree (I used a mix of tomato puree and tomato sauce)
2 roma tomatos
2 baby eggplants
1 yellow bell pepper
Balsamic vinegar (I used about 2-3 tablespoons)
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius. While oven is heating, pour tomato puree into the bottom of an oval baking dish (or whatever shape you want really) and scatter the minced garlic and sliced onion on top of the sauce. Season sauce generously with salt and pepper.
2. I'd recommend that all us non-Iron chefs use a mandoline slicer for the process of cutting the vegetables to make our lives easier - unless of course you are a ninja slicer and have mad samurai sword skills. Trim off the edges of the vegetables and slice the zucchini and tomatoes on the mandoline to about 2mm in thickness. I found that cutting the bell pepper by hand was easier.
TIP: Slice the eggplants last as they oxidise quickly! Squeeze some lemon juice on them to prevent this from happening.
3. Arrange the sliced vegetables on top of the tomato sauce so that they are overlapping each other and about 1/2 centimetre is exposed, alternating between dark and light colours for the most contrast. For example, zucchini (dark), tomato (light), eggplant (dark), pepper (light). Season generously with salt and pepper, and add a splash of balsamic vinegar. You can also sprinkle over some fresh herbs (oregano, parsley, thyme, etc) if you like.
4. Wrap baking dish in foil and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes - 1 hour. You want the vegetables to retain their shape and not be completely limp but clearly cooked through.
5. Serve with bread, couscous, or anything that takes your fancy really!