Ratatouille History

Although the Disney animation hit of 2007 brought this term to the forefront of the American population the name refers to a French dish dating back to 18th century France.

The name is derived from the French words ratouiller and tatouiller which according to Alan Davidson (The Oxford Companion To Food) are expressive forms of the verb touiller which means to stir up. Further, Davidson states the first appearance of the word in English was found in Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery, 1877. Actually at that time the word was misspelled as 'ratouville' and referred to a meat stew. In the 20th Century later authors such as Heyraud described the dish as "a ragout of aubergine (eggplant) with tomatoes, courgettes (zucchini) and sweet peppers" eaten throughout Languedoc and Provence. This author also states that the name Ratatouille was given by the citizens of Nice.

No matter who is credited with the dish or the name it became exceedingly popular throughout France. Most agree the popularity grew because it was easy to make with abundant summer ingredients and that it could be served cold as well as warm.

Ratatouille Ingredients

Ratatouille derives its flavor from the freshest of vegetables.  The best results will come from your own garden-fresh vegetables.  If you don't maintain a garden then get the best you can from your local farmer's market or reliable grocer.  Here are some selection tips for each key ingredient.

Eggplant (aubergines) - If you are using eggplant make sure to select medium sized fruits with dark, glossy skin. The eggplant should be firm and heavy.

Zucchini -  You want small, young squash, not shriveled and make sure you can still see a fresh green stem end.  If you have a garden then pick the squash the same day you plan to prepare the dish.

Sweet Peppers - Use bright colored red, yellow, or orange peppers, or mix them.  Select peppers with firm exteriors, no soft spots.

Onions -  Yellow dry onions or the sweet varieties work well (Vidalia, Maui).

Tomatoes - select small to medium size ripe but not "mushy" tomatoes.   If you are trying to make this dish when tomatoes are out of season then good quality canned tomatoes will be better than the "flavorless" fresh ones at the store.

Preparation Tips

Cook the vegetables separately then combine. This will keep the unique flavors in tact and avoid a mushy product.

How To Peel Fresh Tomatoes

The best way to do this is to dip them in boiling water for 1 minute, then place in a bowl of iced water. The skins will come off easily.

Ratatouille of Nice - The Real Deal

French Chef Phillippe Aubin of Les Toques de Provence states that "real" ratatouille of Nice does not use aubergines but simply zucchini, tomatoes, sweet peppers and onions. Here is his recipe and preparation tips.

Ratatouille Nicoise

Recipe from Amb-cotedazure.com. A blog that specializes in everything-cote-dazure.  Site includes photos, interview and even traffic and weather reports.

  • 4 Courgettes (zucchini)
  • 7 Tomatoes
  • 3 Green & Red Peppers
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Garlic cloves (crushed)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 Bay leaf
  1. Peel the courgettes, tomatoes and onions. Halve the peppers and remove the stalk and seeds.
  2. Cut all the vegetables into bite sized pieces. (The vegetables are fried separately in olive oil over a medium to high heat.)
  3. Start with the onions and then the peppers. Once golden brown, combine together into one pan and continue to cook slowly, but do NOT cover with a lid. Add the bay leaf, salt and pepper (according to your taste).
  4. Cook the courgettes, then the tomatoes with the crushed garlic.
    In a large pan, combine all ingredients and cook for a further 10 minutes.
  5. Serve warm, as a main course or with meat or fish. This dish can also be served cold and is especially nice in summer. 
  6. You need to count approximately half an hour to cook all the vegetables

Ratatouille The Movie

This dish is becoming famous again but not for its summer simplicity.  Thanks to Disney- Pixar films (the 2007 animation) Ratatouille becomes a household word as they weave a story of a little rat that has always wanted to be a chef. 

disney movie ratatouille
Disney Movie Ratatouille - Rat-a-too-ee

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.