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The Baked Ratatouille That Turned a Witch Into a Vegetarian

by 
Elise Seyfried
July 14, 2022

During the 40 years we’ve produced the Rehoboth Summer Children’s Theatre in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, my husband Steve and I have never hesitated to amend certain aspects of the classic stories we adapt for the stage. The stepsisters in our “Cinderella” did not gruesomely lob off their toes to fit in the glass slipper, as the story was originally written. Our “Peter Pan” managed to enthrall without offensive references to Tiger Lily and her tribe as “savages.”  And while the Wicked Witch of the East does get flattened by Dorothy’s house, in our “Wizard of Oz,” the flattening is merely alluded to, and never depicted. We just feel that modern life is enough of a horror show without our adding to small folks’ nightmares. We’d much rather their shrieks be shrieks of laughter, not fear.

So when Steve began writing his funny re-imagining of the rather disturbing Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” he decided that the evil witch would not, in fact, be cooking and devouring kids. Instead, Hansel’s clever sister Gretel would tempt the hungry hag with a series of vegetable delights. Operation Vegetable would be a big success. The witch would lose interest in eating humans, become a vegetarian and open the Gingerbread Café — a happy and delicious ending!

Plot determined, there was another question: which veggie dishes to feature?

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We didn’t want to push our luck with Brussels sprouts and pickled beets. Would Pizza Primavera sound good, we wondered? And gazpacho? Sure! But also, how about that delectable eggplant, pepper, tomato and squash dish that we Seyfrieds love, and that kids everywhere at least recognize from a certain animated film? Thanks to Disney-Pixar, every 6-year-old I know knows that the lovable little rat chef Remy makes one incredible ratatouille. So ratatouille made our theatrical menu. The witch marvels at its magical flavors, as she rapidly loses her taste for roast boy, and our young audiences cheer. 

Now, I can’t honestly report that our small patrons leave the theatre on summer evenings clamoring for garlic and onions. They are undoubtedly headed to the boardwalk for ice cream instead, and who can blame them? But deep down we hope that our fun little plug for veggie dining is sinking in, and that over time our children’s theatre-goers will come to savor truly nutritious and delicious food.

I was fascinated to learn that the version Remy whips up in the movie is actually baked, not stewed, which is sometimes referred to as Confit Byaldi. Whatever you call it, though, it’s an unbeatable main dish, or a wonderful side with roast chicken or fish.

Enjoy this enchanting recipe, sure to tempt the tastebuds of your favorite little characters.

Baked Ratatouille

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Serves 4-6 as a side

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp melted butter

2 medium onions, small-to-medium dice

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp Herbes de Provence

2 red bell peppers, small-to-medium dice

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

6 Roma tomatoes

4 medium zucchinis

4 medium yellow squashes

4 small eggplants(Note: Try to get produce that is as uniform in diameter as possible. That will make arranging the vegetables in a pattern far easier, and prettier!)

 | 
 | 
Serves 4-6 as a side

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp melted butter

2 medium onions, small-to-medium dice

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp Herbes de Provence

2 red bell peppers, small-to-medium dice

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

6 Roma tomatoes

4 medium zucchinis

4 medium yellow squashes

4 small eggplants(Note: Try to get produce that is as uniform in diameter as possible. That will make arranging the vegetables in a pattern far easier, and prettier!)

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp melted butter

2 medium onions, small-to-medium dice

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp Herbes de Provence

2 red bell peppers, small-to-medium dice

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

6 Roma tomatoes

4 medium zucchinis

4 medium yellow squashes

4 small eggplants(Note: Try to get produce that is as uniform in diameter as possible. That will make arranging the vegetables in a pattern far easier, and prettier!)

Directions

1. Heat the oil in large skillet over medium heat, add the onions and cook until soft and translucent.

2. Add the garlic, Herbes de Provence and bell peppers and cook for 5-7 minutes, until softened.

3. Add the crushed tomatoes, stir and cook the sauce for about 10-15 minutes over low/medium heat.  Add the balsamic vinegar.

4. Cut the zucchini, squash, tomatoes, and eggplant into thin slices (use a mandoline or sharp knife).

5. Preheat the oven to 275°F

6. Spoon the sauce into a large rectangular casserole dish. Layer the vegetables in the baking dish in a pattern (see photos for inspiration) until the baking dish is filled. Sprinkle on salt and pepper, and drizzle the veggies with the butter.

7. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1.5-2 hours until bubbling. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes to let the vegetables roast and benefit from a reduction of water and concentration of flavors. Then, drizzle with the butter and broil for 5-10 until the edges of the vegetables begin to crisp and brown. Bake for 45 minutes (uncovered) until the sauce is bubbly and the vegetables are tender.

8. Let the casserole rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

About the Author

Elise Seyfried

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