The Signature Dish in Disney’s ‘Ratatouille’ Wasn’t Actually Ratatouille
The stunning layered vegetable creation unveiled by the charming rat chef is a Provençal specialty known as a tian.
In the climactic scene of the 2007 Disney film Ratatouille—during which the movie’s main characters, Remy the rat and Linguine the human chef, attempt to impress an important culinary critic—Remy and his animal pals diligently prepare a mouthwatering dish of sauce and vegetables that reminds the tough food commentator of his mother’s homemade meals. The delectable-looking animated spread is presented in the film as ratatouille, a Provençal recipe that originated from Nice, France. But while we can’t fault Disney for the use of a clever pun, the beautifully arranged vegetarian dish shown during the movie isn’t, in all technicality, ratatouille. Rather, it’s a variation on another, very similar Provençal dish: tian.
As far as ingredients go, tian and ratatouille generally share a lot of similarities. Both use summertime vegetables—usually some combination of squash, eggplant, and tomato—and usually incorporate some type of tomato-based sauce. The difference between the two dishes is largely found in how they’re prepared and cooked. Tians derive their name from the earthenware dish that they are traditionally baked and served in, but the word can refer to any dish which includes thinly sliced vegetables aesthetically arranged in a casserole-cooking dish. Ratatouille, on the other hand, usually involves cooking cubed or thinly sliced vegetables in olive oil until they create a hearty stew. Since both call for an assortment of vegetables, a simple sauce and (optionally) some sort of cheese, either can provide an easy venue for any unused produce that might be lingering in your fridge. And since the biggest time requirement of either dish is chopping up the vegetables, both can serve as easy options for healthy weeknight meals. Served with a loaf of French bread, these dishes could become new dinnertime go-tos.
To make a ratatouille, select some vegetables that meld well together, like tomato, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and onion, and dice them into bite-sized chunks. Coat your vegetables in olive oil, and then add them to a pot, where they’ll simmer and soften over medium low heat. Feel free to add any seasonings you prefer during this step. Some chefs swear by cooking each vegetable individually before combining them, but cooking them all together won’t harm the overall flavor. Once the vegetables have reached a soft consistency, divide into bowls and serve. While it’s not strictly traditional, feel free to add cheese at this step. Parmesan is a good option, but goat cheese would also be delicious.
TRY IT: Skillet Ratatouille
For a tian, bust out your mandolin and slice up your vegetables. You can also slice by hand, as long as your vegetables are cut into somewhat thin slices. Get out an oven-safe dish, and spoon some sauce into the bottom. Tomato sauce is generally used here, but pesto would be a good deviation from the classic recipe. Some variations of tian don’t use a sauce at all, and instead rely on butter, which drizzled over the vegetables. Use whichever is most suited to your tastes.
Once you’ve chosen a sauce (or butter) layer your vegetables in the casserole dish in whichever pattern seems most attractive to you. You can either lay the slices flat, or you can stand them on their ends. The usual pattern involves arranging the vegetable slices in circles, but some cooks prefer rows. Either method is fine, but alternating vegetables by color will make the dish even more attractive once served. Once the vegetables are all in the dish, feel free to coat with more sauce, sprinkle with some Parmesan shavings, or both. Cover and cook in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, then uncover, add more cheese if desired, and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. The cover will allow the vegetables to initially soften before later developing a caramelized brown finish.
While a tian and ratatouille stem from similar origins, the difference between them is still important to note. By learning to cook both, however, you’ll have two more delicious meals to add to your cooking repertoire, as well as some interesting Disney and culinary-themed trivia to bring to the dinner table.