CSA Week 6: Ratatouille Ratatouille

August 14, 2012 § 5 Comments

The haul – wow!
yellow squash
mole peppers

Finally, it was time. Ratatouille time.

Well, first it was buying a mandoline time. Because this wasn’t just going to be any ratatouille. (“Ratatouille? But it’s a peasant dish!”) This food blog is fancy. And this ratatouille is really, really fancy. This is French Laundry’s Thomas Keller reinvents Michel Guérard reinvents haute cuisine fancy. By way of Pixar, of course. Is there anyone who has ever set foot in a kitchen who wasn’t inspired by the movie Ratatouille? And when the ingredients all came into season, it was time to get a mandoline. I bought the Swissmar Börner V-1001 V-Slicer, mainly because of the positive reviews for its safety guard and the fact that it could be rinsed off rather than disassembled to wash the blades separately.

Friends, this is the recipe that almost broke me, even with a few shortcuts. I can happily cook for hours on end (or de-spine tiny cucumbers, for that matter). This is the recipe that, after I got the dish into the oven an hour after I intended to, made me throw all the leftover ingredients into a pot and just leave it there to simmer while I muttered. And the stovetop version was good. It was a tasty, happy peasant dish, and it was good enough. But the fancy version redeemed itself and opened even my eyes – me, a self-proclaimed foodie and someone who values perseverance and attention to detail in the kitchen – to the possibilities of food that goes beyond good enough. The combination of slowly roasting/steaming the vegetables in a flavorful sauce base then browning them at the end brings out all their best qualities.

And then I made a few simplifications that I don’t think compromise the quality and make this maybe not an easy-weekday-night-dinner dish, but at least a doable-dinner-party-knockout. It takes time, but you can make most of it ahead and do the last step the day of. Oh and here’s the thing: they are vegetables, and they don’t have to look perfect. The recipe quantities don’t even have to be exact, so add a little extra tomato if you’re lucky enough to be up to your ears in them from the garden. Because of the technique of this version of the recipe, it will still be really, really good. Read on.

Confit Byaldi, a.k.a. Ratatouille Ratatouille
adapted from Thomas Keller
for one 9×13″ baking dish, or two 8″ round baking dishes (Pyrex, ceramic, enameled cast iron) – serves 6-8
for a double recipe of the piperade because these are semi-standard jar sizes:

  • one 15oz jar roasted bell peppers, drained and coarsely chopped
  • one pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or one 15oz can diced tomatoes
  • one small to medium onion, coarsely chopped or sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • one teaspoon chopped garlic, 2-3 cloves
  • sprig of thyme
  • bay leaf
  • salt to taste
  • 2 T olive oil

The piperade is the base on which this dish is built. Saute the onions and garlic in the oil till soft but not brown, 5-10 minutes. Add the tomatoes along with the herbs and simmer until they are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add the peppers and simmer for another few minutes. Puree the piperade with an immersion blender, or carefully spoon it into a blender or food processor. It will still be quite thick. Salt to taste. Spread a thin layer over the bottom of your baking dish. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

While the piperade is simmering, start slicing your veggies. I highly recommend a mandoline, or a ninja-chef. My first try I used the thin setting which is about 1/16 inch (shown in the first picture). The second try I used the thick setting which is closer to 1/4 inch, and I highly recommend the thicker setting so as not to drive yourself crazy. It’s easy to get pretty stacks if your vegetables are all about the same diameter, but if not: they’re just vegetables.

  • two small to medium zucchini
  • two small to medium yellow squash
  • two Japanese (thin) eggplants, or one regular (thick) eggplant
  • about four tomatoes

Place a line of alternating veggies, overlapping by about 1/4 inch. You can slide the stack together with one hand and place veggies with the other to keep it from sliding down into the pan. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt. This picture is version two with the thicker slices. So much easier.
Cover the pan tightly with foil (or with a precisely cut layer of parchment paper if you are trying to recreate the movie exactly). Bake at 300 for two hours. Yep, two hours. Go read a book. Then uncover and bake for another 15 minutes or so, until most of the liquid has evaporated but the veggies aren’t browned. Let it cool, then cover it and stick it into the fridge until tomorrow.

Uncover, and place under the broiler for about 15 minutes until just browned. Sprinkle lightly with a mixture of olive oil and balsamic (not much – maybe a tablespoon of each). Serve to your amazed friends. Add the leftovers to pasta and omelets. Smile because it’s the summertime and you are eating vegetables.

How good was it? Good enough to take me back to my childhood in the French countryside…and I didn’t even have a childhood in the French countryside. (One of the most beautiful movie scenes ever, by the way. I love Pixar so much.)

What do you think? Worth the effort?


CSA Week Four And a Half: Salade Nicoise

July 24, 2012 § 6 Comments

This makes me so, so happy. Straight from the garden to the dinner table.

Salade Nicoise
based on Julia’s, of course, proportions to taste

  • green beans – CSA
  • boiling/new potatoes – CSA
  • lettuce – would have been from the CSA if we didn’t buy romaine for something else and forget to use it! (that recipe = grill, eat with dressing and parmesan)
  • hard boiled eggs
  • cherry tomatoes – garden

Vinaigrette (1/2 cup)
Whisk or mix in food processor until emulsified:

  • 1 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 6 T olive oil
  • basil – garden
  • chives – garden

Blanch the beans in boiling salted water until they are fork-tender (just a few minutes) then shock in cold water. Boil the potatoes until easily pierced with a fork. When just cool enough to handle, slice and toss with the vinaigrette. Combine with all remaining ingredients and toss. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve with paté and cornichons.

Cornichons (and a Very Passable Paté)

July 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

I mentioned I was growing cucumbers in the garden, but these aren’t any run-of-the-mill, expect-to-be-inundated-from-the-CSA-soon cucumbers. These are Parisienne Cornichon de Bourbonne cucumbers (see? fancy!), seeds purchased from here, whose sole purpose in life is to be made into cornichon pickles.

We went to Paris last year and every day we went to the corner market and bought baguettes, cheese, hard cider, paté, and other goodies and ate it for lunch wherever we wandered to that day. Lester and I passed out in a food coma in front of the Eiffel Tower. It doesn’t get any better than that. We brought back an entire suitcase full of food, including a four-pound loaf of Poilane bread and lots of paté. When we got back I made my own too. It turns out there isn’t a whole lot to making at least a Very Passable Paté: buy chicken livers super cheap from the Asian grocery store, saute in butter with shallots and herbs, and blend with more butter as needed. I made a plain one with cognac and a cranberry sage one. Scoop into jars and cover the tops with melted butter to seal it over, or do the same in muffin tins and pop out and freeze little individual serving paté pucks. I’m sure there’s more to making a fancy paté, but this works for me and my baguettes. So all I needed was the cornichons. (Yes, you can buy them in stores. No, that is not the point.)

A word to the wise: keep an eye on your cucumber patch. I skipped a day of picking, and the previous two days I might have picked in the dark by flashlight because of getting home from work late. So I was surprised by these spiny monsters lurking in my tangle of a cucumber patch:

Yes, that is a penny. So while these cucumbers are designed to be cornichons, they won’t stay small forever! They also get to be the right size a few at a time, so this is a recipe based on picking a few every single day and throwing them into a batch already going in the fridge rather than water bath canning a bunch all at once. This is not shelf stable.

For every jar:

  • teeny tiny cucumbers
  • white wine vinegar
  • a little bit of an allium: shallot, garlic, pearl onion, etc.
  • a sprig of thyme
  • a few peppercorns
  • a few mustard seeds
  • a few allspice
  • a few coriander seeds
  • a teaspoon of kosher salt for about every 4oz vinegar

I washed a few canning jars and lids (which can be previously used because they don’t need to seal), or you can even use some leftover other glass jars, in hot soapy water. Then I rinsed, then filled the jar with boiling water to overflowing and put the lid on loosely. In the meantime, I figured out that wearing kitchen/dishwashing gloves protected me from the cucumber’s spines while I rubbed them off with a vegetable brush (or just my gloved fingers on the really little ones). It is very fiddly and obsessive to get the spines off a bunch of tiny cucumbers one at a time, but you wouldn’t be growing your own cornichons if you weren’t fiddly and obsessive, now would you? I dumped the water from the jar, added the spices and salt and alliums, layered in the cucumbers, and poured in vinegar to cover. (This picture is an 8oz jar, so that is the goal size for these cucumbers or even a bit big!) Into the fridge, and no sampling for a whole week. They will turn from bright green to dull green.

If you were making this shelf stable, you would have to sterilize the jar and (new) lid, heat the brine, then pour the hot brine over the cukes in the sterilized jar, seal, and process for about ten minutes.

Et voila!

Worth the fiddling and obsession? I think so… How about you?

Cornichons (and a Very Passable Paté) on Punk Domestics

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