When I found out that I was going to have to cook an ethnic inspired dish, I was terrified! As I have stated before, I am not someone that should be allowed in a kitchen due to my non-existent cooking skills. In addition, I am someone who tends to avoid attempting anything I will most likely be unsuccessful at, which is probably why my kitchen duties have not expanded past washing the dishes after the meal. But since this was a school assignment and I take school very seriously, I was determined to put my fears aside, step out of my comfort zone, and make a French inspired dish, ratatouille.
Photo from Food52
I knew I was going to need to enlist some help, so I called in my boyfriend, Ryan, whom, in his own mind, is a pretty good cook, but nonetheless, is definitely much better than I am. Once I had decided on a dish, the two of us planned to attempt the first recipe on a Friday night. He would clean the kitchen and I would go to the grocery store to get all of the yummy ingredients. For the first time ever, I was going to be the one in charge of the kitchen while Ryan, a broadcast and entertainment communications major, would be in charge of the camera.
For the first recipe, it instructed me to cut up the vegetables, which turned out to be a more difficult task then expected because Ryan’s camera was in my face the whole time. Nonetheless, the first few vegetables for the ratatouille were cut and ready to be cooked. Once Ryan put his camera down, I gave him the task of watching and stirring the eggplant in the pan, while I cut up the rest of the vegetables. He decided to get a little fancy with his technique of sautéing and before I knew it part of the eggplant was all over the floor. “Oops!” he said.
We had to cut our losses, half of the eggplant, and persist on. We continued to add the rest of the vegetables and cook until they were soft just like recipe said to do. After all the vegetables were cooked, we noticed the dish looking a little mushy, which made us a little apprehensive, at which point I knew a little improvising was necessary. I told Ryan to go get a baguette roll (we live across the street from a market) to help balance out the dish if the stew was too mushy. As we began to dig in, my assumptions were correct. All of the natural juices of the vegetables became too much when added together and the dish was more of a soup then a stew. Neither of us wanted to admit the truth, so we just kept eating it, but we definitely didn’t go back for seconds.
After the disastrous first attempt at ratatouille, I was determined to find a better recipe that would better suit our taste buds. I knew that some form of meat, chicken or beef, would probably make the dish taste better, but that wouldn’t be true to the French ratatouille, so I started exploring other options. I came across a recipe that incorporated cheese into the vegetable mix and called for baking the vegetables instead of sautéing them, which would hopefully prevent them from being on the floor this time.
I decided this was a good alternative and was determined to make this recipe turn out better than the last. I began cutting up all the vegetables, while Ryan was again in charge of the camera. This time, after first cooking the eggplant the recipe instructed us to then put the vegetables in layers in a Dutch oven with parmesan cheese in the middle of each vegetable layer. Then we would bake the dish in the oven where the cheese would melt onto the vegetables, creating a more savory meal. That is exactly what happened. The second recipe tasted like a hearty, home cooked meal, the way I envisioned ratatouille tasting. Ryan and I both went back for seconds this time and by the end of our meal, the Dutch oven was spotless, no trace of any ingredient remained.
Since the first attempt was a disaster, I really didn’t even want to try a second recipe. But because of my desire to do well in school, I forced myself to pretend like the second time around was my first and not get distracted by my previous failed attempt. This turned out to be a good strategy and I was able to learn from my mistakes in the first try and apply those to my second, which is why I was so successful.