The prettiest way to eat your vegetables – Baked Ratatouille Tian for easy summer entertaining or family meals.
What is ratatouille?
As you probably well know, ratatouille is a wonderfully flavoursome, slow-cooked dish of eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and zucchini. Usually served as a room temperature side dish, the thick stew is also a fantastic vegan main dish when served over top of rice, or with a torn hunk of French bread. It’s a fantastically healthy and simple way to enjoy the summer’s best produce, and makes the best leftovers. I sometimes adapt it for a shakshuka or a pasta sauce. It’s hugely versatile and easy to adapt once you have the basics sorted.
But, it can look a bit heavy. A tad wintry. Which is kind of the opposite of how you wish to eat in the height of summer.
Enter, Baked Ratatouille Tian.
This dish – one not original to me, but this is my version – is actually a saucy marriage of two French dishes: the ratatouille and the tian.
What is a tian?
A tian is dish of layered vegetables baked in the oven until tender. Basically a gratin without the dairy bit. I make various tians with shaved fennel, potatoes, cauliflower, peppers, and loads of other bits that my heat-sapped brain cannot immediately recall. There is nothing fancy about it at all. But it can look very pretty when the vegetables are thinly sliced and laid with care. This method of preparation certainly elevates the most humble of ingredients.
It does wonders for the classic ratatouille.
The overlapping, melting vegetables look very special and effortful but is easy enough to do as a weekday meal, especially if you already have the sauce prepped.
Origins of this dish – possibly
You may recall this dish from the highly-regarded film, Ratatouille. This is the dish that Remy serves to the snooty food critic, winning him over – and side stepping the fact that Remy is in fact a rat. Albeit a very talented one. I recall munching away on over-salty popcorn, daydreaming I was at that white-clothed table being served this kaleidoscopically beautiful dish. The movie recipe is based on one by famed French Laundry chef Thomas Keller, and is reprinted in this New York Times article as Confit Byaldi. Whether his is original, I’m not certain
My Food To Glow dish is a simplified version. If I had thought ahead I would have found the soundtrack and cooked to it. But I have it playing now on my Spotify as I type. I had forgotten how central it is to the mood of the movie. Lots of light and shade. But mainly glorious, orchestral, light.
How to make Baked Ratatouille Tian
It is very straightforward but does take a few steps and some time to achieve this sumptuous, swirling, mélange of a dish.
The first step is making the sauce, a thickish, garlicky tomato sauce. This is spread over the bottom of an oval or round casserole dish, or a cast iron skillet. If you used a good quality bought sauce, I will be none the wiser. 😉
While the sauce is bubbling away, thinly slice the vegetables that you will be laying over the sauce. Keeping them a uniform thickness will help with the cooking, but you don’t need to get out a measuring tape. If you have a mandoline, and are competent with this rather scary piece of kit, this gives a fab result. Unfortunately I had to chuck mine away a couple of years ago when it disintegrated in my hand. To be fair, it was about 30 years old.
Once layered it is just a matter of brushing with olive oil and baking until soft, and the sauce is bubbling at the edges and caramelised. Leave it to cool a bit and enjoy as is with a green sharply dressed salad and some good bread. If you wish, add some pinches of grated Gruyère cheese, or even crumbles of ricotta salata as you remove the dish from the oven. Another slug of oil is welcome, as is a twist of black pepper.
I must apologize for the lack of process photos. I was making several of these Baked Ratatouille Tians to take into work and didn’t make time to capture the method. But the whole thing is so easy and I’m sure you get the idea.
PS I’m still listening to the Ratatouille soundtrack. It’s so good!
~ Do also check out my Easy (Baked!) Tomato and Eggplant Risotto with Crispy Herb Topping. (image below)
Have you seen Ratatouille? Did it make you very hungry and desperate to recreate any of the dishes?
Baked Ratatouille Tian
The prettiest way to eat your vegetables - Baked Ratatouille Tian for easy summer entertaining. It makes great leftovers so prep two dishes of this if you can. Oh, and the amount of vegetables will greatly depend on the size of the vegetables you use and of the size of your dish. Use my measurements as guidance only.
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium red onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic finely minced and mashed
- 4 Roma/plum tomatoes ripe; deseeded if you wish; can use 1 tin of whole tomatoes, crushed (chopped ones can be bitter)
- 1 350g jar of passata / tomato sauce
- 8 cured black olives optional; stones removed and flesh chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves I like lemon thyme
- 2 tsp finely chopped parsley
- 1 bay leaf lightly crushed but still intact
- 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar good stuff
- dash of sugar optional, for balance of acidity
- 5 Roma / plum tomatoes
- 2 medium zucchini / courgette
- 2 medium yellow squash / summer squash if unavailable use more zucchini / courgettes
- 2 yellow peppers
- 1 medium eggplant / aubergine
- a few sprigs of thyme
- a few bay leaves
- extra olive oil for brushing
Heat the oil in a saucepan then add the chopped onion and garlic, sautéing over a low-medium heat until soft - about eight minutes. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and cook down to a soft mulch.
While the sauce is simmering, prep the vegetables. For the tomatoes, slice into thin rounds; zucchini, eggplant and squash, the same as the tomatoes. If you are using larger eggplant (I did), cut the rounds into half moons. For the peppers, slice away the sides to get four"squovals" and then cut these in half. If the peppers are very large cut these pieces in half again.
When the sauce is soft and pulpy, pour it into a greased dish or cast iron skillet.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
Beginning at one edge of the dish start alternating the sliced vegetables in a semi-reclining, overlapping pattern. It really depends on the shape and angle of the dish. Brush with oil - garlic or herb-infused oil would be nice - and cover loosely with a sheet of foil.
Place the dish in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for a further 10-20 minutes, or until tinged it takes on colour. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before eating warm or room temperature with hunks of French baguette, rice, or couscous. This is wonderful the next day and the next again, too. No need to reheat, just leave it to come to room temperature.
Add-ins: white beans or white anchovies in the sauce for protein; a dollop of crème fraîche, a shower of grated Gruyère or crumbles of ricotta salata on top.
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