The basic ingredients in Ratatouille are eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and green peppers. Perhaps one or two of these ingredients are not your favorites, but combine them and you just might change your mind. The flavor blend is fabulous when accented with the right herbs.
I had never tasted ratatouille until 1982, when I was competing in the National Beef Cook-Off in San Antonio, Texas. The grand-prize winner that year was “Beef and Ratatouille Torte,” and it was wonderful.
Helen Gately of Rhode Island won $5,000 with her version of an Old World favorite. Gately combined the basic vegetables with ground chuck and poured the mixture into two pastry shells. Her ratatouille entry was actually a beef and vegetable pie rather than a stew, but the ingredients were the same.
Gately described her winning entry as a “happy accident in the kitchen.” She had originally planned to make ratatouille crepes but a busy schedule prevented her from getting the crepes ready in time for dinner. In desperation, she tossed the vegetables and some cooked ground beef into a frozen pie shell and baked it.
I was so intrigued by the flavor of this torte that I started thinking of ways to use this vegetable combination in other dishes. My first new creation was a vegetable paste made using the ratatouille vegetables. I simply spread the flavorful paste on cooked lasagna noodles that were then rolled up into neat little bundles and baked in a tomato sauce.
Recently, when I was planning a menu for a cooking class, I decided to once again see what I could do with the ratatouille idea. I already had a pork entree and a dish containing beef, so I opted for chicken with the ratatouille. This wasn’t the first time I had combined these special vegetables with chicken. In 2003, my Chicken Galette Provencale won me a trip to the National Chicken Cook-Off in Baltimore.
As you can see from the following recipe, I made a few changes so this can’t be called a traditional ratatouille. I omitted the peppers but you could add them, if you’d like. I replaced the peppers with mushrooms. I also added an Italian twist by using a special cheese blend on top.
CHEESY CHICKEN RATATOUILLE
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups chopped zucchini (not peeled)
1 cup peeled chopped eggplant
2/3 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped mushrooms
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 cup finely shredded Italian Blend cheese (more, if desired)
Heat butter and oil in large skillet. Add zucchini, eggplant, onion and mushrooms. Saute until vegetables are tender but not mushy. Stir in tomatoes. In a small bowl, combine the herbes de Provence, salt and black pepper. Sprinkle over vegetables and stir. Add chicken. Remove from heat. Spoon ratatouille into casserole dish. Sprinkle with cheese. Place in 350-degree oven until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.