Rigatoni à la Ratatouille
Updated: Sep 16, 2020
I love ratatouille, not just the movie, but the actual dish. It is a traditional Provençal recipe from southern France that radiates warmth, cosiness, and herby-goodness. Before you click away thinking, "I'm not Remy. There's no way I can make ratatouille that looks like a work of art to the point where I don't even want to eat it," it is important to note that the movie version is the Michelin star take on what is considered a "peasant dish." During my French travels and frequenting my local french restaurant (owned by a born and bred Frenchman), ratatouille is simply served as a side dish of tomato stewed vegetables, not a mandolin sliced, layered work of vegetable art- though you can make it that way and it will still be delicious. So, just as Gusteau told Remy "Anyone can cook," I am bestowing those words of wisdom to you. Let's make some ratatouille. . . with a twist.
After making a delicious batch of ratatouille, I had the idea of turning it into a pasta dish, an Italian-Franco bowl of love. I chose to use rigatoni because of its tubular (isn't that a funny word?) shape and the ridges on its body.
A little pasta 101: every single pasta shape has a special sauce pairing. Why? Well, certain pasta shapes hold a sauce better than others. For example, in the Liguria region of Italy, pesto is served with piccagge or similar shapes such a cavatappi, because the sauce is able to sink into the grooves of the pasta making each bite flavorful. You want a marriage of your sauce to your pasta, because it's no fun getting a forkful of pasta half-coated with sauce. Both the texture of the sauce and pasta will enhance each other. Another example is the orrechiette shape, also known as the "ear shaped" pasta because it looks like little ears. It is often served with a legume based sauce (so a sauce with peas for example- a popular pairing), because the peas will get nestled into the indentation of the orrechiette. Okay, now back to our recipe.
I like rigatoni because it is a "heftier" pasta shape, in the sense that it does not break easily and its hollow middle will allow the diced veggies of the ratatouille to hide inside; every bite will have pasta and veg. The saucy part of the ratatouille will also coat each rigatoni evenly thanks to the pasta's grooves.
Note: Normally I use pasta alternatives like chickpea or lentil pasta, but sometimes the real thing is best. Whatever type of pasta you choose (GF, brown rice, lentil, etc.), just make sure it has a shape. We heart curves. Linguine or spaghetti is not what you're going for. Cavatappi, conchiglioni (the medium shells), even fusilli or penne, if that's all you have, are my recommendations. Now let's get started!
1 can of whole peeled tomatoes (or you can use fresh tomatoes if that's what you have. If you're using small tomatoes you're going to need more than if you're using garden tomatoes).
1 large red bell pepper (or 2 small ones)
1 large eggplant (or 2 small ones) ---everywhere else they call eggplants aubergines and I think America needs to adopt that, cause aubergine just sounds way better.
1 large green zucchini
1 large yellow zucchini
1 yellow onion
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves
1/2 water (reserved to thin out sauce if necessary or to de-glaze pan)
Cut eggplant into 1/2" chunks, then add to a bowl lined with paper paper towels (or set over a colander), sprinkle with salt, mix, and let stand on countertop for 30 min. This will help release the moisture out of the eggplant, so that they cook nicely and won't turn a mushy gray when cooked.
Cut zucchinis and bell peppers in 1/2" chunks.
Dice your onion and garlic cloves.
After 30 min, squeeze out the excess water of the eggplants- be careful to not mush them though.
On medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook eggplants for 5 min until they are getting golden brown, but not yet fully cooked. They will finish cooking when we add them back in later. When finished, transfer aubergines to a separate bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the same pan on medium and add in onions. Cook until translucent.
Add the bell peppers and zucchinis and stir. Once onions are caramelized and the veggies are getting tender (3-5 min), add in the whole peeled tomatoes and the can's tomato liquid. (Note: depending on the texture you want for the dish, you can either use a potatoes masher to mash the tomatoes down a bit more (you'll have some large and small chunks, which I personally like) or be sure to cut them into smaller pieces before you add them to the pan). Add 1/4 a cup of water or and stir.
Add the minced garlic.
When mixture starts to bubble, add in the cooked eggplant, and stir to evenly combine.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of salt, stir, then taste. If it needs more salt, add more, or if the mixture is getting too thick, add a tiny bit of water. Remember to SALT TO TASTE.
Add in fresh sprigs of thyme (or you can use dried if that's all you have). Taste- you want it to be herby, but not overpoweringly herby.
Add 1 bay leaf.
Cover mixture with a lid and turn heat down to lowest setting. Let stew fro 30-45 min. Stir every 10-15 (if starts to stick to bottom, deglaze with a bit of water and adjust seasoning to taste).
In a medium pot over high, bring water to a boil.
When almost at a rolling boil, add salt to water to make it taste like the ocean and stir.
Add as much rigatoni as you're planning to serve. Depending on the type of past you use, the cooking time will be different. Keep checking on it until it is almost al dente, which means "to the bite." Pasta is NEVER meant to be squishy and mushy, or too crunchy. You want it to be almost cooked, but not fully . . . "to the bite."
Once pasta is almost al dente, turn off heat, reserve some of the starchy pasta water in a separate cup or bowl. Drain pasta. (The reason I suggest to stop it right before it's a; dente is because it'll continue to cook in the pot).
In the same pot, add as much ratatouille as you plan on eating for your serving. Then add a few tablespoons of the reserved starchy pasta water to help thicken the sauce and further coat the pasta. Stir, stir, stir, then plate.
Add a fresh grating of parmesan or even cracked black pepper if you'd like.