I'm going to be totally honest here, this version of confit byaldi — the ratatouille from the Pixar gem of the same name — did not live up to the five years of hype that I built up in my head. Yes, it was totally silly for me to think the first bite would inspire the same, pen-dropping reaction depicted in the movie — because really how often do films, particularly animated ones, accurately depict reality? — but I managed to trick myself into believing that I, too, would be so enlivened by the dish.
See, I look forward to summer's arrival so I can make one of my favorite meals: heirloom tomatoes and various summer squash roasted with a generous amount of garlic and a splash of balsamic spooned atop fluffy quinoa and wild rice. It is so high on my list that I'll willingly heat the oven to a blistering 450° and crank two burners all the way up high during the dead of summer. It's absolutely worth turning my kitchen into my own, personal sauna.
So of course I drew the conclusion that ingredients in one of my favorite summertime meals plus Thomas Keller would equal pure Disney magic in my mouth. Nopety nopety no (to quote a drunken Linguine).
Is it impressive fare? Absolutely. It's impossible for me not to appreciate the rainbow of colors arranged ever so carefully in the pan. Edible? Totally. The flavors meld nicely into a mellow-flavored, easy-to-chew casserole — there's just no wow, no fireworks (hmm, have I emphasized enough how confounded my expectation was on some level?). Worth it? Now that depends. While it does rack up high marks for novelty — I imagine it would earn you a good number "oohs" and "aaahs" if presented to dinner guests (and you can prepare it the day before, so that's something) — but for "just" David and me, I have to say no. Given that it takes hours and hours to prepare — for a mere side dish, mind you — the time cost is way too steep for me to make it on any sort of regular basis.
But perhaps I am alone in these feelings. Heck, it could be just the thing to get kids interested in an assortment of summer produce. Or even inspire them to roll up their sleeves and get cooking — because if there's one takeaway from the flick that I still wholeheartedly believe in, it's that anyone can cook.
Confit Byaldi (Ratatouille)
Preparation Time: 1 hour+
Inactive Preparation Time: About 2 hours
Baking Time: 1 1/2 - 2 hours
Serves: 4 as a side
Feel free to double the piperade — I did in order to use up the other half of the peppers and bay leaf, and because I have another recipe that it's perfect for (Pasta Bravo!, it'll be posted soon). Don't worry if you don't use up all of the summer squash/tomatoes/eggplant. All, with the exception of the eggplant, are a great addition to a green salad or snacked on raw (especially drizzled with vinaigrette) so they won't go to waste!
- 1/2 red bell pepper
- 1/2 orange bell pepper
- 1/2 yellow bell pepper
- 3/4 pound beefsteak tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) olive oil
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 grams) minced garlic
- Pinch (1/16 teaspoon) fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt or to taste
- 4 - 5 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/16" slices and seeded
- 6 ounce zucchini, cut into 1/16" slices just before assembling
- 6 ounce yellow summer squash, cut into 1/16" slices just before assembling
- 6 ounce Japanese eggplant, cut into 1/16" slices just before assembling (cut last of all to avoid oxidation)
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams) minced garlic
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (14 grams) olive oil
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a small, rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper; set aside. Remove seeds, stems and ribs from peppers (if you'd like to see how I do this very quickly and neatly, please refer to the jalapeno photos included in this post). Place pepper halves, cut side down, on baking sheet. Roast for about 15 - 20 minutes, or until skins pucker and edges begin to caramelize. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Once cooled, peel peppers and chop into 1/4" cubes.
While peppers roast, prepare beefsteak tomatoes. Bring a small saucepan filled with water (enough to submerg a tomato, not so much that it'll overflow once added, though) to a boil. Cut small (about 1"), shallow X on the bottom of each tomato. Submerge one tomato at a time in boiling water, cook for 30 seconds then remove with slotted spoon to a heatproof plate to cool. Repeat with remaining tomatoes. Once cool enough to handle, peel tomatoes.
Now our objective is to chop the tomatoes into cubes, while reserving their juices and parting them with their seeds. Here's how I do it: Chop tomatoes into 1/4" - 1/2" cubes, scrape tomatoes, seeds and any accumulated juices into a salad spinner. Spin away until tomatoes are as dry and seedless as possible. Strain tomato juices using a fine mesh sieve (you'll have about 1/4 cup); set aside juices and discard seeds. If there are too many seeds clinging to the tomatoes for your liking, feel free to rinse them under running tap water and spin again until dry; set aside.
Combine oil through garlic in an 8" skillet (if doubling recipe, use a 10-12" one) over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (do not brown!) — about 30 minutes. Add chopped peppers, tomatoes, 1/4 cup of the reserved juices, thyme, parsley and bay leaf. Increase heat to medium and bring mixture to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the veggies are soft.
Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor (it is still quite hot, so the top cannot be completely covered unless you want an explosion to occur – I just hold several layers of floursack towel over the small, center hole). Blend piperade until smooth; set aside. It may also be puréed using an immersion blender.
DO AHEAD: Piperade may be made several days in advance — transfer to storage container, cool to room temp and refrigerate. Bring to room temp before use.
Preheat oven to 275°F. Spread all besides 1 tablespoon piperade in the bottom of a 10" oven- and stovetop-safe skillet. Alternate slices of tomato/yellow squash/eggplant/zucchini, leaving 1/4" of each exposed. Arrange a strip 12 slices long down the center of the pan. Around this strip, arrange more alternating slices — overlap about a quarter of the initial strip on both sides. Arrange ring after ring (or eye shape, as I seemed to manage), overlapping the previous until the pan is filled in. Sprinkle minced garlic through Kosher salt evenly over the top.
Tightly cover pan with aluminum foil, crimping edges to seal. Place in preheated oven and bake for 1 - 1 1/2 hours or until veggies are very tender. Once tender, remove aluminum cover and bake for 30 minutes more (replace the aluminum cover if it begins to brown). If too much liquid remains, set on the stove over medium heat and simmer until evaporated (this was unnecessary for me).
Whisk together reserved piperade and vinegar; slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve and Store:
Serve portions of confit hot with a drizzle of vinaigrette. (I found a small, offset spatula helpful in dishing out a fan of slices without mangling them.) It may also be chilled to room temp and refrigerated — serve cold or reheat in a 350° oven until warm.