Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ratatouille: Or, How I May Be Losing My "I Hate Zucchini" Membership Card

First it was Sautéed Julienned Zucchini. Then it was Zucchini Tomato Slaw with Tennessee Mustard Dressing. Now, Ratatouille. What is wrong with me? I can understand the first two - the first is flash sautéed and the second uncooked with the oh-so-offensive seed cores unused, but ratatouille is, by definition cooked, and for quite a while. For this, I blame Food52. 

They featured Alice Water's Ratatouille recipe, slightly adapted, in their "Genius Recipes" series (there is some cool stuff there - check it out), during the restaurant's 40th anniversary celebration week and the treatment touched a chord for me. From the picture on the site,it looked: not soupy, not a brown mash, not full of watery zucchini that taste like heated slush - all bad taste memories for me.  

In this preparation, the peppers, onions and (yes) even the zucchini maintain texture, structure and dignity and the flavors of the other vegetables is distinct. This is still true as I eat it this morning (the third day) warmed up, under some scrambled eggs. Finally, the recipe reminded me of pound cake - a pound of tomatoes, a pound of zucchini, a pound of onions, a pound of eggplant, a pound of peppers, plus olive oil, 4-6 cloves of garlic, basil, a pinch of dried chile flakes and salt. Easy to remember. 

Since I used Food52's recipe as is and did not adapt it enough to republish, except to cut the zucchini a little bit larger than the called-for 1/2" dice, I'll refer you to their site for the recipe but will give you some notes in the pictures below, on the preparation.

Preparation Notes & Photos                                                                                                                 
The only quibble I have with this recipe is how the quantity of basil is described:
  • 1/2 bunch of basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine + 6 basil leaves, chopped

What is a "bunch of basil"? Small differences likely don't matter but a bunch can be few stems or a fist-full. During summer, especially at farmers markets, basil is plentiful and the bunches I buy are huge. If I purchased a plastic clam shell  package of fresh basil from my local corporate grocery store, it's a much, much smaller amount and may not have been enough. If I'd used half of the giant bunch of basil from the farmers market, I think it would have overwhelmed the dish.
I used yellow and green zucchini, Early Girl tomatoes, 2 small red onions, 1 medium yellow onion,
red Italian sweet peppers and 3 small eggplants and basil
I used this much basil and while the flavor permeates the dish, it doesn't overpower. To the right is the eggplant which is cooked first, caramelized, and then removed to be added back later.
The onions are colored mostly from bringing up the fond after cooking the eggplant with a little (very) color from cooking. I like making a spot for my garlic so that it actually cooks with pans' heat rather than throwing it in to steam with the other ingredients. That's a tip I picked up watching Lidia Bastianich. I used six cloves but it absolutely doesn't overwhelm the dish and cooked it to a very, very pale straw color
I cooked the onions, garlic and chile flakes before I added the basil (a slight departure from the recipe) and then, as the recipe states, added each of the following, cooking for a few minutes before adding the next ingredient: peppers, summer squash and tomatoes. Lastly, the eggplant is returned to the pan and the dish is cooked for 10-15 minutes before the basil is removed and the seasoning adjusted.

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