By Brigitte Weymiller, Gundersen Lutheran registered dietitian
"Anyone can cook" is a phrase from one of my favorite movies, Ratatouille. The Disney movie's plot is about a rat who works under a chef's hat, controlling his arms by pulling on his hair, to make delicious food in a French restaurant. If you are a fan of Food Network or Cooking Channel, you will fall in love with this rodent chef. His signature dish in the movie is ratatouille.
I am a Disney fan. I'm vacationing at Disney World this month with 18 of my family members, including my 6- and 3-year-old children. After watching the movie, my kids and I made ratatouille. I included them in every aspect of making the dish - from picking out the vegetables to measuring the ingredients to setting the table. We even used our "fancy" dishes. They were so excited about trying the finished product.
Ratatouille is a Mediterranean mixture of sweet peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant. Preparing this is a great a way to bring movies to life for little chefs, and it helps you consume a healthy serving of vegetables. This colorful vegetable casserole can be prepared in a number of different ways. Traditionally, each vegetable is sautéed in olive oil separately and then all the vegetables are added together at the end of the cooking. This can make for one very oily dish and it's higher in calories. In the first recipe, the vegetables are roasted in stages, using much less oil. All the traditional flavors are included with a lighter flavor.
Ratatouille can be served as a side dish, as a chilled salad, filling in an omelet or a base for soup. Once you try these recipes, you'll probably come up with your own favorite ways to serve them. Bon appétit and, remember, "Anyone can cook!"
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1½-inch cubes
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, seeded and finely sliced
½ green pepper, seeded and finely sliced
2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
3 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ lb. button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ cups crushed tomatoes
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch slices
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. finely chopped basil leaves
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place eggplant, onion, peppers and thyme in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat well. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until the vegetables are beginning to soften, stirring halfway through. Add mushrooms, garlic, crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper to the pan; toss to mix well. Return to oven and roast for another 10-15 minutes or until the tomatoes have started to break down, stirring halfway through. Add zucchini, parsley and basil to pan; toss and return to the oven for another 8-10 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Remove from the oven and taste for seasoning. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mixture to a heated serving dish or platter, leaving the excess liquid behind.
Per serving: 130 calories, 7 g fat, 4 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 350 mg sodium
Makes about 5 (2-cup) servings
1 lb. ground beef
1 (24 oz.) jar spaghetti sauce
1½ cups low-sodium beef broth
2 cups water
1 small eggplant, cut into cubes
1 medium zucchini, cut into cubes
1 large green pepper, chopped
½ cup uncooked elbow pasta
Cook beef in a 4-qt. saucepot over medium-high heat until well browned, stirring often to break up the meat. Pour off excess fat. Stir sauce, broth, water, eggplant, zucchini and pepper in saucepot, and heat to a boiling over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in pasta. Increase heat to medium; cook for 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender, stirring occasionally.
Per serving: 304 calories, 11 g fat, 23 g protein, 29 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 660 mg sodium
If you would like more information about nutrition and healthy eating, please call the Gundersen Lutheran Nutrition Clinic at (608) 775-3447 or go to gundluth.org/nutrition.