As Chef Auguste Gusteau famously says/sings, "Anyone can cook, all you have to do is look inside yourself." Whether or not you believe that—or if you even want to cook—you deserve a chic spread to usher in 2021 and watch Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical.
The concert presentation, based on the social media sensation and benefiting The Actors Fund streams, January 1, 2021, with an all-star lineup that includes Andrew Barth Feldman, Tituss Burgess, André De Shields, Kevin Chamberlin, and Ashley Park. Before then, let us take care of the menu planning with some ideas below.
Yes, we know, it’s the dish, not the rat. Derived from the Occitan ratatolha, the name essentially refers to an eclectic vegetable stew. There’s an endless array of preparations and presentations, but at the core of all ratatouille is a combination of tomato, garlic, onion, summer squash (such as zucchini), eggplant, and bell pepper.
Many traditional recipes will call for you to cook each vegetable separately on the stove with a decent amount of olive oil before combining them to finish their journey as one harmonious stew. For a shortcut, try slicing or cubing the veggies and roasting them together at 400 degrees on a baking sheet for about an hour (just add the tomatoes near the end). For an impressive presentation a la Remy (like below), make a sauce with the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and bell pepper, then nestle evenly sliced zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes in an alternating pattern over the sauce and bake.
Feel free to riff from there. Go très traditionnel with some herbes de Provence (a mix of fennel, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, and other French staples); throw in chopped olives, capers, or anchovies if you’ve got them for a briny pop; heat things up with a dollop of harissa or a squirt or sriracha; be wild and add whatever other vegetables look good to you that day. You might get a raised eyebrow from Anton Ego, but the taste buds don’t lie.
The best part about ratatouille: while it may be time-consuming (should you choose), it can be made a few days in advance. The stew gets better with time, and even tastes as good cold as it does warm.
Is there anything more enticing than a landscape of textures, colors, and flavors, delicately arranged and waiting for you to ravage and explore? Variety is the spice of life, and the key to a magnifique cheese board. A few basic pointers:
The cheese is the star. Or rather, the cheeses. Opt for an odd number of choices (let’s say trois), each with their own distinct characteristics. One route: include a hard, nutty cheese (e.g. Gruyère or Comté), something soft and creamy (can’t go wrong with a wedge of Brie), and a “third wheel” with a je ne sais quoi (think a funky Roquefort or a tangy Chevre). Start with the cheeses as your anchors across the serving board, then build out from there.
Keep the eclectic theme going as you fill it up. Perhaps a baguette (from a local boulangerie or, if baking has become a pandemic pastime, make your own!) and a seeded cracker as your primary vessels. Condiments and other accoutrement should range from salty/savory to sweet/tart; for every smattering of olives and cornichons, include some dried and/or fresh fruit, and finish it off with small ramekins of Dijon (preferably whole grain) and honey.
Chef Skinner might call you an “idiot of elephantine proportions” if you don’t spring for a ’61 Château Latour, but rest assured, you’ve got other options. For some picks that are both on the French theme and full-bodied to match the strong, savory qualities of a ratatouille or complex cheeses, look to a Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, or a Bordeaux. Of course, the stream is on New Year’s Day, so all the more reason to pop open some bubbly as well.
If you’re more in the mood for a cocktail, might we suggest a Soixante Quinze (or, a French 75) or a Boulevardier? The latter is technically American-born (albeit with some Parisian roots), but damnit, it’s fun to say, and the perfect winter drink.
Not drinking? Try a tisane (an herbal tea); French varieties often include chamomile, lavender, mint, and/or or lemon verbena.
For another cute option, here’s how Playbill’s Bryan Campione plans to tune in:
This dark chocolate mousse recipe from Bobby Flay is a family favorite, and it doubles really well. Once it is set, scoop it into a dish, add almonds for ears, chocolate candies for eyes, a chocolate chip for the nose and pretzel sticks for whiskers and you have a “mouse au chocolate!”