Monday, July 22, 2013

Men Who Cook: Summer Ratatouille

What's the only thing better than having a man who knows what they're doing in the kitchen?
Two men in the kitchen who know what they're doing!

This is what we're discussing today. 
Summer veggies, men and ratatouille.

My son Ross and I decided to take a bike ride to Joe's Garden and pick up some extra fruit for the week.  We were low on fruit and I needed a few extra cucumbers so off we went.  After picking out hoards of new fruit I noticed a common grouping of veggies.  A perfect assortment for ratatouille.    Now, we have plenty of veggies at home from our CSA and garden but I just couldn't help myself.  I must explain.

I've never been too excited about ratatouille. What is it really but vegetable stew?  It doesn't really look appetizing BUT I must admit that I've always been curious about it.  It's a strange curiosity that I just can't explain.  And because I'm curious about food I have to try it.  It just seems like one of those things that you just have to try making once in your life right?  I think that I made this eons ago but I don't really remember much about it.  I do remember that it wasn't very noteworthy.  A kind of "meh" dish.  However, it's summer and the veggies are bountiful.  It's always important to revisit something, especially if it wasn't very memorable in the first place.

Meanwhile at Joe's Gardens, my son and I looked at the eggplants, zucchini, peppers, onions, and garlic I noticed that Ross was hesitant.  "Does it have tomatoes in it?", he skeptically questioned after I asked him if I should make ratatouille.  I told him that yes, it does contain tomatoes.  "Hmmmm.  Can you taste them very much?" he asked.  I told him that you could kind of taste them, but they didn't overpower the dish.  (If you can't tell he has an aversion to tomatoes).  This is a bit of a fib on my part because I don't really remember what it tastes like, but if you're a mom and you have a child who is curious about a new food you do what you have to do.  I did know that there were not a lot of tomatoes in the dish so my guess was pretty good.  I also know that if I want my son to be adventurous with a new dish there can be no wishy washyness about ANY of my answers.  For Ross, the adult has to know for sure.  After a few pondering moments Ross decided that we should make it, together. 

So here we are now back at home and ready to make this dish and Ross needs a visual.  Heck, I need a visual.  Who gives the best visuals for ratatouille?  Why Jacques Pepin of course.  He has made this dish on camera two separate times. 

The first was a shorter and quicker version from the More Fast Food My Way series.  I have the cookbook for this one.  Here's the video for that one.  Use it if you're pressed for time and prep your veggies ahead of time.  I suggest chopping everything up, putting it in your pan and putting the pan in the fridge.  Just take it out and let it come to room temperature before you cook.    The recipe for ratatouille starts on 2:26. 
The second video I found is of Jacques Pepin making ratatouille from his newer Essential Pepin series.  In this video his charming childhood friend Roland comes and cooks with him.  I must say that out of the two viewings, this second one is my favorite.  Sadly, I wasn't able to attempt this one because Ross decided not to help after all.  He was busy teaching himself to ride a bike.  O.K. I'm proud and a bit disappointed but please take the time to watch this version.  Even if it is just for entertainment value you've got to admit that the banter between these two chefs is fun to watch.  They exhibit exactly how men (and anyone else for that matter) should be in the kitchen.  They're relaxed, having fun, giving each other a hard time and drinking wine.  Please remember that above all else, cooking should be an enjoyable venture. Don't stress.  Just have fun and do your best. 

Here is the link for the recipe and the video.
However, I always prefer a direct link to the video itself.   They start making ratatouille on 13:35 and it ends at 20:00.  It's only seven minutes long but I recommend watching the entire show. 
Before I tell you how I made this dish, I have to make an important point.  There is a TON of argument about what constitutes a traditional or "real" ratatouille.  Is it the ingredients?  Is it the process?  What?  Personally, I think that ratatouille has to have a few things.  Things like:
  • eggplant
  • tomatoes
  • garlic/onions
  • zucchini
  • pepper (s)
  • olive oil
Other than that I think that it's important and fun to experiment.  To me it doesn't matter whether you layer the vegetables, the process in which you cook them (casserole vs pan) or even the spices.  People can get really testy about spices.  For example I used lavender in mine and that is definitely NOT considered appropriate by some.  Who cares?  It was awesome, fun and tasty. 
Another aspect that gets peoples knickers in a twist is how you serve it.  In general, ratatouille was intended as a side dish that is served at room temp.  However, I wanted to make this a meal so I opted to incorporate pasta.  You can decide to serve ratatouille a few different ways. 
  1. By itself with olives.  This is traditional and it can be served cold or room temperature when it's hot outside.
  2. Over pasta
  3. Over polenta
  4. Perhaps even over gnocchi.
  5. You can even top it over bruschetta.  That would be great for leftovers or for hors d'oeuvres
  6. Topped over fish like halibut or other meat.
Try it and get back to me here to let me know what you did.  I bought more eggplant and I might even post your suggestion.

Anyhow, here is how I made my ratatouille as inspired by Jacques Pepin. 

Ratatouille (all of my ingredients came from either Joe's Gardens or my CSA)
Everything local but the tomatoes.  However, I did purchase them from a local store.

  • 1 large onion (chopped)
  • 2 med. cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 bunch garlic scapes (from my CSA)
  • 1 small green pepper
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 1/4 of a very hot jalapeƱo
  • 2 small zucchinis
  • 1 14.5 oz. can of roasted tomatoes (Muir Glen Organics is my preference)
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil (Mediterranean Specialties)
  • Optional:  for the pasta version
    parmigiano reggiano and kalamata olives
Here's how I made it.
The lavender is fresh right now but the rosemary and oregano is hand dried from my garden.

Oooo.  Look at the lavender flowers.  They really did add a nice flavor.
Spices: I didn't measure anything but used equal amounts of almost everything. The first 5 spices I combined and added to the veggies before boiling.
  • dried oregano
  • fresh lavender
  • dried fennel
  • fresh thyme
  • dried rosemary
  • fresh basil (Only use this at the very end when serving)
In general making this dish was pretty simple.  I mixed all the ingredients and the first 5 spices in the largest non-stick pan I had and brought everything to a boil.
Once boiling I reduced the heat to low, covered the pan, and cooked gently for about 20 minutes.  Jacques recommends 30 but I don't like the veggies to turn into complete mush.  My dish didn't have a lot of extra water but if yours does then reduce the moisture by boiling, uncovered until it has the consistency you desire. 
Your ratatouille is pretty much done now.  Now you have to decide how to serve it. 
  • For a side dish:  Drizzle with olive oil, add kalamata olives and fresh basil.  Serve cold or room temperature.
  • For over pasta:  Cook pasta according to package directions and spoon ratatouille over drained pasta.  Add a bit of parmigiano reggiano cheese, a few kalamata olives and top with fresh basil. 
Here's the end result.  It was very tasty and quite memorable. 
Now, that said.  Here's a few things I would have done differently.  I plan to by the way because I was just at Joes Gardens and pick up more eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. 

  • Peel the eggplant!  (My goodness the skin gets rubbery.  Maybe it's because I didn't cook it the full 30 min. but this is a problem I've had with eggplant before.  I'm a texture girl and this is a problem for me)
  • Reserve about a third of the garlic and add after the boiling was completed.  I've done this with other dishes and it adds more flavor. 
  • Top with goat cheese.  (I confess that I snacked a bit on the veggies afterward.  They were good but goat cheese would have made it super amazing! 
If you have made this before, please respond with your successes and frustrations with this dish.  If you haven't made it before, try it and then post your questions/comments.  All posts go directly to my email and I get back to them right away. 
Happy Cooking! (said in my best imitation of Jacques Pepin) 

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