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The rat's ratatouille

July 25, 2007 | 10:37 am

Byaldi_3 Everyone is talking about ratatouille — if not the dish, then the movie. Or maybe the dish in the movie, as it is reinvented (spoiler alert!) by one super-taster rodent. He wins over the creepy restaurant critic by slicing squash, eggplant and tomatoes very thin, layering them over a creamy compote of cooked onions and peppers, and then baking it. "Wait a minute!" shouted you Food section readers with unusually long memories. "That sounds familiar." And so it does. "Little Chef’s" creation comes courtesy of French Laundry chef and former Los Angeles Times columnist Thomas Keller, who was a consultant on the movie.

It’s the byaldi from his first cookbook, a home cook’s version of which appeared in his column in 2001. For those of you with poorly organized scrapbooks, here it is again, after the jump.

-- Russ Parsons

Photo by Robert Gauthier

Byaldi

Active Work Time: 40 minutes *

Total Preparation Time: 3 hours 40 minutes

The zucchini, eggplant and yellow squash should be sliced paper-thin. If you use a mandoline, place it on a towel to prevent it from slipping.

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sliced onion

1 red bell pepper, cut in 1/4-inch strips

1 yellow bell pepper, cut in 1/4-inch strips

1 green bell pepper, cut in 1/4-inch strips

Herb sachet (2 sprigs thyme, 2 sprigs parsley and 1 bay leaf, tied together in a cheesecloth bundle)

Coarse salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 to 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced zucchini rounds

1 to 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced Japanese eggplant rounds

1 to 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced yellow squash rounds

6 small tomatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon minced thyme

Heat the oven to 275 degrees. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-low to medium heat. Add the onion, red, yellow and green peppers and the herb sachet, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the vegetables are softened but not browned, 15 minutes.

Remove the sachet and spread the mixture in an even layer in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet or round baking dish. Arrange the sliced zucchini, eggplant, squash and tomatoes over the onion and peppers, beginning at the outside of the pan and working toward the center, alternating and overlapping them. Mix the garlic, olive oil, thyme and salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle over the vegetables.

Cover with foil, crimping the edges to seal, or with a tight-fitting lid, and bake for 2 1/2 hours.

Remove the lid and check the vegetables (the eggplant will take the longest to cook): They should have softened and be almost cooked. Return to the oven, uncovered, and cook until very tender, an additional 30 minutes.

The byaldi can be served immediately or cooled to room temperature and then refrigerated until ready to use, preferably within a day or two.

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