Flicks & Food With The Domestic Diva: RATATOUILLE Pan-Roasted Striped Bass With Ratatouille

IMG_4300 After a slew of contemporary films (AVATAR, IT'S COMPLICATED, JULIE & JULIA and THE BLIND SIDE), I'm digging back into the vaults to write about one of my favorite movies of all time: RATATOUILLE.  I know that it's somewhat uncouth for an adult to proclaim undying love for a cartoon, but heck, this is a grown-up kind of cartoon with Brad Bird at the helm (he's an adult, after all) and Paris as a backdrop.  Alright, maybe I am rationalizing, however this little cartoon about a rat who strives to become a great chef feels like it was engineered for our inner foodies (or more nefariously, to brainwash your kids into becoming foodies).  I'll let you decide.

I could go on and on about the picturesque scenes of Paris, the beautifully rendered food, from soups to baguettes, to the acerbic assault on frozen food, but in the interest of brevity, I want to focus on the single greatest part of this film.  It's the message spouted by Chef Gusteau, the greatest chef in Paris:  "Anyone can cook."  I firmly believe this with all my heart - it's the reason why I write my blog and also this column.  Say it with me, Anyone can cook.  That means, you people!  Great food isn't a privilege - it's a right!

My favorite moment in the flick comes at the very end (spoiler alert if you haven't seen it!), when Anton Ego, the renowned and rigid food critic voiced by legendary actor Peter O'Toole, tastes Remy the rat's signature dish, which is of course, ratatouille (a vegetable dish loaded with tomatoes, onion, eggplant and zucchini).  Most would consider ratatouille a peasant dish unfit for a top restaurant, but Remy insists on serving it anyway.  The minute Ego takes a bite, he is instantly transported back to his childhood in the French countryside when his mother would make him ratatouille.  His tough-as-nails exterior cracks, the restaurant earns rave reviews (hurray!) and everyone lives happily ever after.  Or something like that.

What I love about this scene is that it perfectly illustrates the power of food, not only to satiate our palates, but to create lasting memories and associations that can instantly connect us to our childhoods, or to a specific place and time (this is the same thing I love about wine).  Food is a temporal creature, always changing and evolving, and also, never made the same way twice.  The ingredients are always different.  You'll never have that exact eggplant again, or that precise piece of striped bass, even if you use the same recipe to replicate the dish.  Every meal is truly one of a kind

So in honor of RATATOUILLE, I'm sharing a recipe for ratatouille, of course!  In this case, I served the vegetables with a piece of Pan-Roasted Striped Bass, but Halibut or Sea Bass would be great substitutes.  I love how the delicate flavors of the fish go with the creamy, tart ratatouille, which I prefer to cook down in a cast iron skillet to concentrate the intense vegetable flavors.  This is truly one of my favorite dishes, and the perfect accompaniment to a perfect movie!

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out my blog Domestic Divas(www.domesticdivasblog.com) for other great recipes, restaurant and wine reviews.  Other special features include Simple Suppers, a series featuring meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less and Music On Tap, a section devoted to introducing readers to new music.

RATATOUILLE Pan-Roasted Striped Bass With Ratatouille
Serves 4 people
Cooking time: 30 minutes

4 striped bass fillets (4 oz each)
1 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
salt & pepper

1 shallot, chopped
4 zucchini, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
4 Thai eggplants or 1 small eggplant, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper

To make the ratatouille, heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet or other heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add the shallot and saute for a few minutes until translucent.  Add the eggplant, squash & tomatoes and saute for 7-10 minutes, or until cooked.  Then reduce the heat to low and allow to continue to cook down for another 10-20 minutes while you prepare the fish.  This will give the dish extra concentrated flavor as the tomatoes seep into the other vegetables.

To make the fish, salt and pepper both sides of the fish.  Then, heat the grapeseed or canola oil in a saute pan over high heat.  Add the fish to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high.  Cook on each side for a few minutes until just cooked through.  Remove from heat and drizzle with the lemon juice.

To plate, place a little of the ratatouille in the bottom of the plate and top with a piece of fish.  Enjoy!

Wine Pairing
When I first made this dish, we drank a lovely Pinot Noir (Copain 2006 Monument Tree), which paired beautifully with the flavors.  However, if you'd like to go white, I'd recommend a rich but not overly-oaky California Chardonnay from a producer like Windy Oaks.

DD profile pic About the Author
JENNIFER DAWN ROGERS … A graduate of Harvard University and a former film development executive, Jennifer cooks and writes in Los Angeles. In 2009, she launched her blog Domestic Divas(www.domesticdivasblog.com), which focuses on local, organic cooking, restaurant and wine reviews.  She is currently writing her first novel.

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