The French Casserole That Has Us All Fooled
And why you should give it a try.
For someone who writes recipes, I'm sometimes terrible at following them. I mean, is there really that much of a difference between an 8- x-12 and a 9- x-13? The recipe writer in me is appalled I'd even ask that question, but the home cook in me just shrugs and grabs the 8- x-12. One day I was following a recipe—sort of—from a cookbook I adore (Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi). It's a recipe book devoted to vegetables and fruits. From veggie tarts packed with ricotta and feta to recipes for stuffed portobello mushrooms and crusted pumpkin wedges with dill sour cream, it's the kind of cookbook that takes your vegetable game to the next level (not to mention its visual appeal on the coffee table).
In the book there's a recipe called "Tamara's Ratatouille" that, I have to confess, I'd choose over my mother's cooking any day of the week. It's a spectacular version of the classic French dish that we all have misconceived notions about (thanks, Disney)—the vegetables are somewhat overcooked in a tomatoey sauce that seems to allow the flavors of sweet red pepper and butternut squash to meld with onion, parsnip, and zucchini. Instead of cooking all of the vegetables in a roasting pan (like the cookbook said to do), I dumped the veggies into my trusty casserole dish to finish cooking in the oven. It hit me—what came out was a steaming, perfectly cooked ratatouille that my grandmother would have identified as a casserole from a mile away.
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A French farmer's dish, ratatouille is simply a bunch of vegetables that slowly cook together in a large vessel. Rather than the perfect colorful circles popularized by the fine dining cartoon version, many ratatouille recipes just call for the vegetables to be cubed and cooked together to make a mound of scoopable steaming vegetables that transform into something magical in the oven. If that isn't a casserole, I don't know what is.