Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ratatouille, the essence of Provencal cuisine and Ratatouille’s Ancestor, the Bohémienne de Légumes.

The history and recipe of the most famous of all  Provencal vegetable stews. 
Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
Ratatouille or Ratatouille Nicoise is a traditional recipe from Nice in Provence, France. For at least 100 years before the movie, ratatouille the dish, was a favorite on Provencal menus. Since the movie, the original ratatouille, or more often an adaptation of the original Ratatouille, is now on menus internationally. 

Remy the rat, the chef, from the movie Ratatouille gazing over Paris.
Photograph courtesy Fernando Galeano

Ratatouille  the classic recipe.

Ratatouille was originally called Ratatouille Nicoise  and the classic recipe from  NIce, was eggplants, aubergines in the UK,  zucchinis, courgettes in the UK, onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, garlic, herbs and olive oil.  To those ingredients chefs may add, mushrooms, lardons which are fried or smoked bacon bits, and occasionally eggs.  Some of the vegetables will vary with the seasons, and quite a number of chefs present their ratatouille with gruyère cheese browned on top or grated and placed on the side for the diner to add to his or her taste.
The ingredients
Photograph courtesy of studio-d.

Order ratatouille in restaurants that make it fresh everyday.
The reason is the olive oil.
 A tasty ratatouille may only come from the freshest vegetables, and the finishing touch is a that drizzle of  fine virgin olive oil added cold at the last moment.  That final touch is a must if the restaurant expects customers who know the difference between a freshly made ratatouille and a warmed up ratatouille, to come back. The best virgin oils, all of them, lose their unique flavor when cooked or  heated in any way. Use a good olive oil for cooking but keep that expensive virgin olive oil for use old.
For more about choosing and using the best olive oils see the post:
There are arguments among the ratatouille faithful as some insist that a ratatouille must cooked while layered while others maintain the original was a mixed stew.
Today many ratatouille offerings are baked, and the dish does not suffer from that change. From my experience, the tastes may be similar but the more you pay determines if the ratatouille is served layered; only the texture may be different. You pay for presentation.
Photograph courtesy of drcohn

Ratatouille hot or cold?  You choose.
Ratatouille may be served hot or cold, and that was always part of the dish’s history. Ratatouille  began as a main dish and only later gained popularity as a side dish. Now in a return to its origins ratatouille is again offered as a main dish accompanied by rice or pasta. Despite the occasional disputes ratatouille did originate in the area of Nice and is just one the many famous and popular dishes Nice has given to the rest of Provence and France. 


Ratatouille with cheese, and rice on the side. 
Photograph courtesy of
Ratatouille is so now so popular with visitors to Provence that they will also be offered fast-food ratatouille versions where it will be served in toasted baguettes, ratatouille pizza or in a Niçoise Fougasse or Fougassette.

For most the popular French breads including the Fougasse  or Fougassette see the post:

Bohémienne de légumes the dish that preceded ratatouille

Bohémienne de Légumes  –  Ratatouille's ancestor;  and still on some Provencal menus is the  classic Bohémienne de Legumes.   Bohémienne de Legumes is a vegetable stew that only includes eggplant, aubergines in the UK, and tomatoes.  As with its descendant ratatouille, a bohémienne de légumes will be fried in olive oil with garlic and herbs. Modern versions may include onions, but that is about it, as adding anything else will turn a bohémienne de légumes into its grandchild, a ratatouille!

Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013.

For more about Nice, the city, and its unique dishes and history see the post:

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