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A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Jenise » Thu Nov 09, 2006 12:40 pm

This is the 1930's ratatouille recipe Bob Henrick referred to in another thread. I originally posted it in 2001 just after reading MFK Fisher's book Long Ago in France, and it's so lovely it deserves re-reading by those who saw it then and the new acquaintance fo those who didn't.

This recipe was part of the very last chapter of the book where she describes moving into their first apartment and really having to learn to cook for the first time in her life. As she described it in her inimitable style, "It was the first real day-to-day meal-after-meal cooking I had ever done, and it was only a little less complicated than performing an appendectomy on a life raft but after I got used to hauling water and putting together three-courses on a table the size of a bandana, and lighting the portable stove without blowing myself clear into the living room instead of only halfway, it was fun."


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Every couple of pages in the book, "Long Ago in France" by MFK Fisher, is another gem that makes me want to pick up the phone and call a foodie friend or a traveling friend or a literary friend or even just a girlfriend, because Ms. Fisher writes about some very personal experiences. A gem of the foodie kind is the following recipe for ratatouille which will obviously result in nothing like what I know to be ratatouille. Before many more days go by, I will have attempted this myself, but now I post an excerpt containing the recipe for the pleasure of my friends here.

"I learned to make ratatouille from a large strong woman, a refugee, not political but economic, from an island off Spain: There was not enough food to go around in her family, and she and her husband weree the sturdies, so they got out. They ran a vegetable store with one little window and almost no space....She was a great big beautiful woman: coal-black hair, big black eyes, but a very big grossly overweight body. I do not know how she squeezed through that little square hole. She and her tiny husband evidently slept, ate, lived down there.

"She taught me more than her stew, without knowing that I often pondered on how she washed her gleaming hair and stayed generally so sweet smelling, when it was plain that both she and the lettuces must bathe at the public pump and sleep in the dark cellar or under the little counter. She cooked on a gas ring behind a curtain at the back of the store, and that is how I came to ask her questions, because her stew had such a fine smell. She looked at me as if I were almost as ignorant as I was, and after my first lesson from her I bought a big earthenware pot, which I still use.

"The first ingredients were and still are eggplant and onions, garlic, green peppers, red peppers, plenty of ripe peeled tomatoes and some good olive oil. Proportions are imossible to fix firmly, since everything changes in size and flavor, but perhaps there should be three parts of eggplant to two of tomatoes and one each of the peppers and the onions and garlic. I really cannot say.

"Everything is sliced, cubed, chopped, minced, and, except for the tomatoes, is put into the pot...thrown in, that is, for the rough treatment pushes down the mass. At the end, when there is less than no room, the tomatoes are cubed or sliced gbenerously across the top, and the lid is pressed down ruthlessly. When it is taken off, a generous amount of olive oil must be trickled over the whole to seep down. Then the lid is put on again. It may not quite fit, but it will soon drop into place. The whole goes into a gentle (300 degree) oven for about as long as one wishes to leave it theere, like five or six hours. It shoudl be stirred up from the bottom with a long spoon every couple of hours. It will be very soupy for a time, and then is when it makes a delicious nourishing meal served generously over slices of toasted french bread with plenty of grated dry cheese. Gradually it becomes more solid, as the air fills with the rich waftings which make neighbors sniff and smile. When it reaches the right texture to be eaten as one wishes, even with a fork, the lid can stay off and fresh shelled shrimps be laid amply on the top to turn white before they are stirred in, or small sausages already cooked well in beer or wine. Or it can simply be left in a turned-off oven to be chilled later for probably the best so-called ratatouille ever eaten."
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Bob Ross » Thu Nov 09, 2006 1:11 pm

I made this dish several times since you posted it, Jenise. It is not only delicious, but it also greatly improved my knife skills.

Great cold on a hot summer's day.

Thanks for posting it again.
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Jenise » Thu Nov 09, 2006 2:07 pm

Bob, that's neat. I made it too, and I could tell it was fantastic but unfortunately my eggplant allergy kicked in immediately and I couldn't take a second bite. Funny that hours of cooking seemed to intensify whatever it is about eggplant that bothers me, and yet cooking cooks out same in porcini mushrooms. Doesn't make much sense....
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Karen/NoCA » Fri Nov 10, 2006 10:01 pm

Great read. I've made ratatouille before but I think this is a better, more savory method. How could you not succeed?
This is on my menu for tomorrow with a great whole, bone-in turkey breast cook on the grill. I'm collecting turkey and chicken juices so I can make my Thanksgiving gravy ahead of time.
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the

by Bob Henrick » Fri Nov 10, 2006 11:20 pm

Jenise, as you know I have admired and eaten this recipe since you originally posted it 5 years ago. I have made it with sausage and meatless, and I don't know which is best. As winter is coming on soon, I will make a 7 quart dutch oven of it on the grill over charcoal. And it should be really good. I will start tonight to consider what wine to have with it. I need to do several things on the Kamado, and I don't know what to do first. I have not done a turkey, and my daughter's M-I-L wants me to cook a turkey for her for T-Day so I might better practice that. If I haven't said thanks for the recipe...thanks.
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by James Roscoe » Sat Nov 11, 2006 1:06 am

Jenise wrote:This is the 1930's ratatouille recipe Bob Henrick referred to in another thread.


I assume that it's Bob's original recipe! :lol:
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the

by Bob Henrick » Sat Nov 11, 2006 10:34 am

It isn't my original recipe James, as you see in Jenise's original message it is from a 1930's era cookbook by MFK Fisher. I do highly recommend it though. A more hearty winter meal would be hard to imagine, but be sure to get some really crusty french bread to go with it.
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the

by Jenise » Sat Nov 11, 2006 12:28 pm

Bob Henrick wrote:It isn't my original recipe James, as you see in Jenise's original message it is from a 1930's era cookbook by MFK Fisher. I do highly recommend it though. A more hearty winter meal would be hard to imagine, but be sure to get some really crusty french bread to go with it.


Bob, I think the implication is that of all of us, you would have been around in 1930 to write this. :)
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the

by Bob Henrick » Sat Nov 11, 2006 4:14 pm

Jenise wrote:Bob, I think the implication is that of all of us, you would have been around in 1930 to write this. :)


Jenise, knowing James I understood that, but chose to ignore it. He IS such a smart aleck!
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the

by James Roscoe » Sat Nov 11, 2006 6:11 pm

Bob Henrick wrote:Jenise, knowing James I understood that, but chose to ignore it. He IS such a smart aleck!


To paraphrase the great Yogi Berra, " I resemble that remark!" :P
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by David Creighton » Sun Nov 12, 2006 2:10 pm

maybe someone should mention how greatly this recipe differs from julia child's. for her, each ingredient is first cooked separatly and she regards it as important that each retain its individuality in the final product. i tend to agree with her; but have taken to using small zuchini and small slender eggplant. i half or quarter the zuch and do the eggplant in at least 1/4" disks. these are salted and dried on paper towel and then all the usuall ingredients are cooked until just tender. i rely on an extra day in the fridge to blend the flavors while still keeping some individuality. i should also mention that ratatuille freezes well.
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Jenise » Sun Nov 12, 2006 4:03 pm

Oh, it couldn't be more different, but then it's not trying to achieve the same thing. It's like the difference between blanched green beans and beans cooked for three hours with a ham bone. Don't you think both have their place?
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Paul Winalski » Mon Nov 13, 2006 3:52 am

Since you first posted this recipe back in the old FLDG, it's become one of my favorites. I like Julia Child's recipe, too, but this one is so much less labor-intensive, and in its rustic way just as delicious.

-Paul W.
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Bob Henrick » Sat Nov 18, 2006 1:39 pm

Jenise, do you peel the eggplant(s) when you make this? I didn't the first time I made it, and the skins gave the ratatouille a weird blackish color, but didn't hurt the flavor, I have peeled them since. I have just put a big pot of it together this morning, and will slid it onto the lower bracket of the Kamado around 1-2 pm and cook it at 300 degrees until dinner time. I can hardly wait!
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Jenise » Sat Nov 18, 2006 1:56 pm

Bob, I only made it the one time, because this was the dish that convinced me that the on-again, off-again allergy to eggplant I'd been nursing for years was here to stay, no going back. I couldn't eat but two bites. I know I would not have peeled the eggplant. And I have a great picture memory and I clearly remember that my dish wasn't black. Maybe I used more tomato than you do?
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Bob Henrick » Sat Nov 18, 2006 2:03 pm

Thanks, I peeled the ones I am cooking now, I'll make this several times over the winter, so next time I will leave the skin on, and use more tomatoes. I used only 8 romas in this pot, and I will probably get a 28 oz cans of Italian tomatoes to add while the pot is in the Kamado.
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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Paul Winalski » Mon Nov 20, 2006 10:21 pm

Jenise wrote:Bob, I only made it the one time, because this was the dish that convinced me that the on-again, off-again allergy to eggplant I'd been nursing for years was here to stay, no going back. I couldn't eat but two bites.


Jenise,

What an awful shame! But I'll bet this dish would be good just with the other ingredients, omitting the eggplant, maybe substituting yellow summer squash or some other squash-type veggie.

Bob--I never peel the eggplant when I make this. I like the added texture.

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Re: A Fascinating ratatouille, circa 1930 (reprised from the old FLDG)

by Jenise » Wed Nov 22, 2006 12:32 pm

Bob, I think you'll find more tomatoes will help.

Paul, you're right I could. Didn't think of it since to me the eggplant's slithery texture and wonderful flavor interaction with the tomato is what I love about ratatouille. The zucchini's the expendable part!
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov

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