Ratatouille, not to be confused with the anthropomorphic rat in the 2007 Pixar film, is a hot vegetable stew that originated in Nice. Common ingredients include tomato, garlic, onion, and some combination of leafy green herbs. When Jamie Lynch, chef and partner of 5th Street Group, reopened La Belle Helene in uptown earlier this year, he put his own spin on the brasserie-style menu, beginning with this iconic Provençal classic. “I have a thing for textures,” he says, “and a mushy, overcooked version of ratatouille was not an option.” He wanted to present the seasonal dish chilled instead of hot and emphasize the feel of each vegetable. “I quickly sauté each of the softer vegetables individually and lightly stew the harder vegetables together in a light tomato coulis. At the last minute, I combine the sautéed vegetables and bring the dish together and chill it rapidly to preserve the texture.” The result is a chilled vegetable casserole served in a delicate cylinder of sliced zucchini and squash, drizzled in basil oil, and garnished with tomato confit. It’s as refreshing as it is Instagrammable.
1 small zucchini, half sliced thin and half diced small
1 small summer squash, half sliced thin and half diced small
1 small eggplant, diced small
2 garlic cloves, sliced very thin
1 yellow onion, diced small
1 red bell pepper, diced small
½ sprig rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
1 28-oz. can plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
3 sprigs basil, leaves chiffonaded into thin strips
1. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, work in batches to sauté the eggplant in olive oil until tender and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the eggplant to a sheet pan or casserole dish and set aside.
2. Repeat the process with the diced zucchini and squash (reserve the slices), taking care not to overcook the vegetables. In the same large sauté pan, add a splash of olive oil and heat the garlic with the thyme and rosemary sprigs until the edges just start to brown.
3. Add the onions and peppers to the pan and sweat until softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
4. Add the crushed tomatoes and stew uncovered for 3 to 4 minutes.
5. Transfer the tomato mixture to the casserole with the other vegetables and mix well. Add the basil and either serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator to serve as a salad.
6. To serve: Season the reserved zucchini and squash slices with salt and let sit for 2-3 minutes. On a cutting board, shingle 12-15 slices in a line, alternating colors and overlapping each slice by ¼ inch. Remove the rosemary and thyme sprigs from the ratatouille and spoon about ½ cup of the stew on each plate, trying to mound it as best you can. Carefully wrap the shingled squash around the ratatouille and form into a round shape.