For 13 years, Marc and Monica Deconinck have been serving ratatouille "off and on" at their French restaurant in Auburn, Le Bilig. By their own admission, it hasn't been an especially popular dish. That began to change Friday night, when a party of six arrived at Le Bilig after seeing the hot new Disney animated film "Ratatouille," about the spunky rat Remy who aspires to be a Parisian chef.
Friday night, the Deconincks were serving ratatouille as a stuffing with the herb-roasted chicken and as a nest for the sea scallops. When the party of six spotted ratatouille on the menu they went goofy over it, and before long the entire dining room was swapping stories about the film, about France, about gastronomy and so forth, says Monica Deconinck. "I am just happy that I may not have to explain what ratatouille is 50 times a week anymore," she says.
For the record, ratatouille is a wholesome vegetable dish in which eggplant, onions, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers first are sauteed individually in olive oil and then simmered with herbs. "Ratatouille was a staple with Marc's grandma, as I am sure it is with many French grandmeres," says Monica Deconinck. "They use the word 'rata' to mean a casserole they make with leftovers. 'Touille' comes from the verb 'touiller,' which means 'to stir,' hence the dish - 'to stir leftovers.'"
For my part, I didn't run up to Auburn to sample the ratatouille at Le Bilig after seeing "Ratatouille," but I found the movie so inspiring and so much fun that during my tour of yesterday's farmers market in Sacramento I rounded up all the requisite ingredients except thyme and salt and then made a lively version that went well with last night's halibut.
Like the movie, the ratatouille was labor intensive, requiring a lot of chopping and then the sauteeing of each component, but like the movie it celebrated a cohesive community while letting each individual element stand out on its own. Though I've generally considered ratatouille more fitting for fall or winter than summer, perhaps because of the time it demands at counter and range, I've revised that thought, given that all the vegetables and herbs it requires are at or nearing their peak right now.
The Deconincks also will take advantage of the summer bounty to continue to feature ratatouille through the season, including an occasional ratatouille tarte or pissaladiere, a ratatouille turnover, and a ratatouille gratin. Le Bilig, incidentally, also is gearing up for its annual Bastille Day party July 14, with a menu that is to include sauteed frog legs, duck-confit croissant, apple-stuffed pork loin, and chocolate mousse. And, naturally, ratatouille.