Comfort food. Such a strange term. Makes me think of neurotic bulimics smearing chocolate eclairs over themselves.
The scene in Disney’s Ratatouille, where Remy the rat-chef prepares the dish for Anton Ego, the blisteringly arrogant food critic brilliantly voiced by Peter O’Toole, provides a far better insight into what comfort food is.
And along the way it shows you how to make a fantastic looking ratatouille.
Ratatouille often ends up looking like mush on a plate. But the good thing about the cartoon rat’s approach is it keeps its shape and looks great on the plate. But its not as easy as it looks. There are pitfalls.
- You need vegetables of equal girth. There is no point using a skinny courgette and a massive tomato. The problem is I don’t think I’ve ever come across a super-sized courgette
- You need to cover the dish with baking paper as in the cartoon, otherwise it will catch a bit
- You need to include squash or some kind of pumpkin in the list of ingredients to give it some substance
So you will need
- Three red peppers (long thin ones)
- Two onions
- One aubergine
- One beef tomato
- Can tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 cloves garlic
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Mixed dried herbs
- Salt and pepper
The ratatouille comprises a tomato and pepper sauce spread over the base of an oval dish, with the remaining vegetables layered in repeated slices on top. First prepare the sauce by roasting or grilling two of the peppers in the oven with some oil.
Once softened and blackened remove from the oven and put in a food bag. This will sweat the peppers and make it easy to peel off the skin, which should be done once they are cool enough to handle.
Cut the flesh into chunks. Fry the garlic and one of the onions, chopped, in a little oil and then add the peppers, tinned tomato and puree. Whizz with an electric stick blender, season and then simmer to let it thicken up.
Spread the sauce over the base of an oval dish and then slice the vegetables thinly. Arrange a disc of each vegetable on top of the sauce and then repeat, following the edge of the dish. Fill in the centre with layered vegetables.
You can see here why you need vegetables of an even size, otherwise the layered effect isn’t so good.
Sprinkle with a little grated parmesan (optional) and bake in the oven for 20 mins or so. And here you can see that the vegetables have caught a bit – why you need baking paper.
To serve carefully place a stack of vegetables in the centre of a warm plate (mine was overcooked so it was too sloppy to stack) and then drizzle some olive oil around the plate. Carefully drip a few drops of balsamic vinegar onto the oil. If you are careful enough the oil will hold the vinegar in droplets without running.
Remy did a better job! And we was a rat.