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July 25-31, 2007

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Mouse Droppings

By Jonah Raskin

After watching the feature-length cartoon Ratatouille, a film that resurrects and reinvents nearly every movie cliché, I felt an overwhelming craving for ratatouille itself. As it so happened, I was in London and not at home. Fortunately, the basic ingredients for the dish--onions, tomatoes, eggplant--can be found almost anywhere in the world, and, indeed, I found them in the Tesco Supermarket on Shroud Green Road in Finsbury Park, and fixed supper for my British hosts, who wolfed it down and wanted more.

I have been eating ratatouille since I was a boy, though I didn't like it in my earliest days. My mother made me eat it along with string beans and beets. As I have gotten older, I have acquired a taste for it; last winter in the South of France, I ate the dish for supper every night of the week, for a week. In Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse, Montpellier and Arles, the French eat ratatouille--a staple of peasant and working-class cooking--more often than they eat pommes frites. I had it with lamb and couscous, pork and potatoes, with duck confit. It goes with anything and everything, and just about anybody can cook it, which is, of course, one of the messages in the movie Ratatouille.

I don't really use a recipe, though they abound. I begin with really good olive oil, which I heat in a skillet, then add diced onions and simmer them slowly, add cut-up eggplant, and when that becomes translucent, I throw in tomatoes and zucchini. For seasoning, I suggest salt and pepper, oregano or basil. Maybe a little red wine. Perhaps a pinch of sugar. Anyone can do it! It's the ultimate chic, egalitarian dish, and the movie is sure to make it more popular than ever before, except, of course, in the South of France, where it's practically unpatriotic not to have ratatouille on hand to serve to guests at any time of day or night. By all means, see the movie. It's guaranteed to make you hungry, not only for ratatouille, but for homemade soup, pasta, fresh bread and good red wine.

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