There is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, a little city famed for its quaint charm, fantastic shopping, “typique” markets brimming with olives and purple asparagus and rustic Provençal almond macarons, and leafy, shaded boulevards.
The restaurant is a pizza joint. I have no clue what it’s called, but we go there every time we’re in town. Just make a left up the hill at the church with the fountain just past the market in the square. Somehow we always find it. And even though it’s a pizza place, we always order the vegetable lasagna.
There are several reasons it’s to die for. It’s served like a tian, baked in its own individual stone dish in a hot pizza oven. But the best thing is, it’s so much lighter than the lasagnas we are used to. After a few bites into the deceptively Italian, bubbly dish, you realize that it’s actually ratatouille sandwiched between layers of pasta, bathing gently in tomato sauce, and blanketed with just one fine layer of cheese gratined like onion soup with mozzarella and Gruyère. It’s simple and light and so of the earth in Provence that you can’t help but trek around town trying to find it.
This is my version. I create ratatouille planks: long slices of eggplant, zucchini, yellow bell peppers, red onion, and whole garlic cloves, that I roast with olive oil, chili flakes, and herbes de Provence until they are just slightly charred. Then I layer them with sheets of fresh pasta, bought or homemade tomato-basil sauce, sun dried tomatoes, fresh thyme, basil, and mint, and a final layer of fresh mozzarella and shredded parmesan. Sliced into four big rectangles, the dish really becomes a ratatouille and pasta Napoleon, beautifully stratified with that signature vegetal Provençal flavor. And the best part is, you don’t have to boil the pasta! Just roast the vegetables, and after that, it’s just a simple assembly job that comes out to be a real stunner.