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.

CSA Week One: Borscht-y Pickled Beets

June 29, 2012 § 4 Comments

I picked up my first share from my first ever CSA! I actually picked it up more than a week ago now, but I wanted to make sure I liked how the recipe turned out first 🙂 A CSA (community sponsored agriculture – like buying a fraction of a farm) share was my birthday present from Lester this year. I may have hinted strongly that that’s what I wanted, because I’m sure most guys don’t buy most girls vegetables for their birthday. But then again, Lester is not most guys and I am not most girls, so I don’t think he was a bit surprised.

The haul:
Red beets (and I bought extra goldens)
Swiss chard

First off, I made strawberry jam using Pomona’s Universal Pectin, my new best friend, and only a cup of sugar to four cups of mashed strawberries. I mashed them with my hands, which was highly therapeutic and also looked like a scene from a strawberry axe murderer movie. I won’t even post the recipe because I just followed the directions in the Pomona box, and it was that simple. One of the jars unsealed (my first one so far in my whole year of canning) so we ate that one the next day. It tasted like strawberries. Just strawberries. Did I mention I love Pomona pectin?

Then I made a crustless quiche with the beet greens and chard, some cheese, Cajun spice, and some Andouille. The deliciousness of this is self-explanatory.

More watermelon-feta-arugula salad. Somehow there is still more watermelon.

Finally, pickled beets. I love beets in almost any form, but I really love borscht. Yes, my Eastern European Jewish roots are showing. I wanted to try to capture the flavors of borscht but in a form I could put in a jar without a pressure canner. So, I used Joy of Cooking’s basic pickled beet recipe and added what I considered to be borscht-y flavorings. I’m sure there are as many versions of borscht as there are Eastern European grandmothers, but I am a big fan of dill in mine, and some tang from the vinegar. Here goes!

Borscht-y Pickled Beets
Makes 3 pints

8 oz golden beets plus 16 oz red beets, or any combo making up 1.5 pounds
6 oz onions (I had sweet)
2 1/4 cups cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
2/3 cup white sugar
1 T dried dill weed
1 t whole black peppercorns
1 t caraway
1/2 t garlic powder
1 t kosher salt

  • Boil the beets until they are fork-tender, 15-45 minutes depending on the size.
  • Cool in an ice water bath to stop cooking, then slip off the skins.
  • Quarter the beets then slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Do the same with the onions.
  • Bring to a boil the vinegar, water, sugar, and spices (I put them straight in the pot with the vinegar).
  • Pack beets and onions into prepared jars then ladle over them the hot vinegar mix, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
  • Process 30 minutes. Yes, that is a long time. Make sure your water level stays high enough!

I plan to eat these cold, mixed with a spoonful of yogurt or sour cream, for a summery side. You could also heat them with some chicken or beef broth and even add potatoes and carrots for a heartier soup in the winter.

How does your (actual or inner) grandmother make borscht, or pickle beets?

Borscht-y Pickled Beets on Punk Domestics

Dreaming of Spring

February 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hi, welcome to our new website!  Apparently this is what happens when I go to work and leave Lester unsupervised.  Taking a brief break from talking about bunnies (okay, this post will wind up still having something to do with bunnies) to muse about spring.  Even after eight-and-a-half winters here I can still convince myself that if it’s sunny outside it might possibly not still be bitterly cold… but it takes a lot of wishful thinking.  Still, there is something right now that makes me think (or hope) that spring is not too terribly far away.  I think it helps that we have some milestones we have recently put in place for the spring – like our trips to New Orleans in March and to Paris in May!  Martha Stewart is also taunting me by sending me her March issue which is all about growing your own vegetable garden.  We are super lucky that our little cottage also has a little garden patch.  See it on the right there in the photo?  Except picture it blanketed at the moment with about two solid feet of perma-snow.  Last year, since we moved in May and had some other stuff going on at the time (like three weddings including our own, and two graduations, and a honeymoon, and starting new jobs), we didn’t get to do much advanced planning for a garden.  It was a pretty impressive jungle of morning glory vines thoroughly tangled around grass and dandelions.  Until one weekend afternoon in a fit of confidence I tore out the whole thing, scrabbling at the roots bit by bit until it lifted off in one giant mat, leaving behind two unexpected tomato vines (which didn’t survive the trauma), one unexpected tomato, and a vaguely prehistoric-looking broccoli tree that went to seed before it, um, broccolified.  We threw in a few things that made it until frost.  But THIS year is going to be different.

Here’s my wish-list:

  • tomatoes
  • more tomatoes
  • and more tomatoes
  • red peppers (no green peppers for me! it’s genetic)
  • lettuce and other greens for salads
  • bok choy? the Chinese grocery store has seed packets… and Lester kind of likes bok choy just a little bit
  • eggplant? maybe I could sneak it in without Lester noticing
  • jalapenos? maybe one little plant since we use about one every three months – too bad you can’t grow chipotles
  • garlic because it’s so much better when it’s fresh and we love us some garlic (I am after all the daughter of my “oh, let’s just add a few more cloves than the recipe calls for” mother)
  • strawberries
  • rosemary (the potted one almost died indoors over the winter)
  • bay (the potted one died indoors over the winter)
  • cilantro for homemade salsa
  • ❤ basil ❤

That’s right, I said it out loud.

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