Ratatouille, then and now

 Not many fond memories were born in the school cafeterias of my youth.
But I have a wonderful remembrance of my first bite of ratatouille in the cafeteria at the Université Nancy, in France.
As a college student on a junior year abroad, I was already marveling at the cheese, the bread, the wine, and the patisserie that lovely country produced.
I can’t remember if it was the very first thing I tried in that cafeteria, I just remember it was a revelation, tasting that homey dish and thinking this was French home cooking. Even from a commercial kitchen, it tasted like it was lovingly prepared by a grandmother, the same way it would be made for her family at home.
I’ve made it many times over the years, simply chopping onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes and cooking slowly until all the vegetables are tender.
But when my daughter asked for a ratatouille recipe, I turned to an authoritative French chef, knowing my daughter’s insistence on accurate measurements, specific times, and clear instructions.
This recipe is from Eric Ripert’s recent cookbook, Avec Eric, and its simplicity bears its authenticity. The only flourishes: He adds a banana pepper, giving it a touch of heat, and garnishes with fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese. (My own addition was some capers because I love their salty, briny tang.)
You can serve it over couscous, as it was first served to me many years ago, or over rice, or just on its own.
It is exactly what you might imagine simmering on a stove in Provence. Or served in a school cafeteria in Nancy.
 

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