. . . more Ratatouille (Provençal vegetables)

dark purple eggplantRatatouille is a summer dish that gets us over the hump of too many zucchini, and maybe tomatoes. It’s enjoyable warm, cold, or room temperature–but it’s not an especially memorable dish.  Not usually–however, I’ve one recipe for it that is memorable.This is not the ratatouille that you put together in the slow cooker, or quickly; however, if you like ratatouille, you should take the time and effort to make this one. Go ahead and splurge on the saffron.That’s part of what makes this memorable.

The recipe from Simply French: Patricia Wells presents the cuisine of Joël Robuchon (see bibliography) gave entirely new meaning to ratatouille.

Provençal Vegetables (Ratatouille)

Adapted from Simply French, pp. 229-230. Serves: 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 10 medium tomatoes
  • 2 medium onions finely chopped
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1 green bell pepper, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Bouquet garni: several parsley stems, celery leaves, sprigs thyme, wrapped in the green part of a leek and fastened with kitchen twine
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • Freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste (optional)
  • 6 to 7 small zucchini scrubbed, trimmed, and cut into matchsticks (about 1-1/4 pounds)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 small eggplants peeled and cut into matchsticks (about 1-1/2 pounds)
  • Pinch of saffron threads (optional)

Preparation

  1.  Core, peel, and seed the tomatoes. Save as much juice as possible and strain. If strained juice does not measure 1 cup, add water as needed to bring to 1 cup. Finely chop the tomatoes and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, combine onions, 1/4 cup oil, and pinch of salt. Cook over low heat until soft and translucent.
  3. Add peppers and pinch salt. Cover and continue cooking about 5 minutes more.ÒΛÓ
  4. Add chopped tomatoes, stir and continue cooking for about 5 minutes more.
  5. Stir in the tomato juice, bouquet garni, and garlic.  Taste for seasoning.
  6. Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes–don’t over cook–vegetables should not be mushy!
  7. If the tomatoes lack flavor, add tomato paste.
  8. In another skillet, while the tomatoes, onions and seasonings cook, heat 1/2 cup oil over moderate heat. When hot add zucchini and sauté until lightly colored (about 5 minutes). Transfer to colander and drain excess oil. Season with thyme and salt.
  9. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil and sauté the eggplant until lightly colored. Transfer to colander and drain excess oil.
  10. Add zucchini and eggplant to the tomato mixture and taste for seasoning, add saffron if desired, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.
  11. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold. Will keep covered and refrigerated for several days.

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This is not you everyday, get rid of the zucchini, ratatouille. It’s special occasion, peak tomato season, and it take time and effort, but if you invest the time and effort, I think you’ll agree that it is a fantastic dish. This best made when tomatoes are at their peak–you don’t want to expend this effort and use canned tomatoes or supermarket ones that have no flavor–that would be a waste of effort. Neither the tomato paste nor the saffron can overcome that deficit.

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Ratatouille (slow-cooker)

vegetables for ratatouilleDuring the summer abundance of eggplant, squash, and tomatoes  we’re often in the OMG-what-can-I-do-with-these-zucchini mode. Ratatouille and caponata  provide some good eating even when the hot weather has rather killed the appetite. I thought that being able to do this in the slow-cooker instead of stove-top would be an advantage in sweltering weather that is already taxing the A/C without adding more heat.

It’s easy to find ratatouille recipes–a quick search on the internet will provide a plethora.  The question:  are they  “good” recipes”?  I’m not sure I can tell you what (specifically) tells me “good”, “passable”, or “oh yuk”.  Most likely past experience, and reading a lot of food science, and (from America’s Test Kitchen) “why this recipe works”.

Here is a ratatouille recipe given by a friend, from Food.com, reproduced below. I’ve never made ratatouille in a slow cooker so I thought this was worth trying. In reading the recipe, I had only a couple questions, so I decided to make the recipe as directed–well, almost–as much as I can–I’m just a compulsive tinkerer, and constitutionally unable to follow a recipe strictly, but almost.  ratatouille ingredientsLooking at the recipe, I knew I’d want more garlic. Had I not been using part frozen peppers (from a Kitchen Disaster), I would not use green peppers–I prefer ripe (red, yellow, or orange) like them. I’m changing the herbs to thyme and oregano,  rather than basil (for reasons explained below in Cook’s notes).  My other question about this recipe had to do with that quantity of tomato paste. Why?

When I started the prep, I was still undecided about the tomato paste.  My inclination was to leave it out because this is an “all fresh” dish, and (to me) tomato paste tastes canned and cooked. Since this does not call for the tomato paste to be added until later, my obvious solution is to wait and see how it tastes, especially since these are summer tomatoes. If  I were wanting to supplement the “tomato” part of the flavor I would likely add some sun-dried tomatoes, rather than tomato paste–unless there is a dearth of “umami” (which is one of my reservations about slow-cooker dishes).

Slow Cooker Ratatouille (Food.com)

The modifications that I made on this recipe on the first round are shown in parentheses after the ingredient. These were just to meet my seasoning preferences, not for any other reason.  Don’t hold this on “warm”–it just doesn’t do well.

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • salt
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes–about 3 medium
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 1 large red bell peppers or 1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dried basil (substitute 1/2 teaspoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon Turkish oregano)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed through a press (4 garlic cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (held until end as I think it gets bitter with long cooking)
  • 1 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
  • 1 (5 1/2 ounce) cans pitted ripe olives, drained and chopped coarsely (oil cured black olives)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (substitute chopped fresh oregano)

Directions

  1. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt; let stand in a colander 1/2- 1 hour to drain.
  2. Press out excess moisture.
  3. Rinse the eggplant with water and pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Place the eggplant in crock pot.
  5. Add onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, olive oil, basil, garlic, pepper and 1/2 tsp salt.
  6. Mix well.
  7. Cover and cook on high setting about 3 hours or until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape.
  8. Stir in the tomato paste, olives, and the fresh basil.
  9. Serve hot, room temperature or chilled.

Notes:  Being of scientific orientation, I decided to do an experiment–half the recipe is cooked as above; and the other half cooked separately, with modifications after I had tasted the results of the original method. First, I had to cook for an additional hour–I thought my rice cooker/slow cooker ran rather hot, but not according to this.  After tasting I did add the tomato paste as the tomato flavor was not at all pronounced, but I think the tomato paste (unless browned before adding) doesn’t add the depth I want. I needed more salt (which kind of surprised me because I don’t usually need to add much. Oregano and thyme needed to be bumped up as did the garlic. Those minor things were done to the first batch. So far the onions  have stayed crispy and I think I’d prefer them a bit softer so maybe microwave them before putting into the slow cooker (that had to wait because they were already mixed with the other vegetables). This came out with more juice than I’d expected.

Now for the second batch. I’m adding more olives, more garlic (sliced rather than pressed), some red pepper flakes (about 1/8 teaspoon) for a little zing (but not a lot of heat), and sun-dried tomatoes (instead of tomato paste), a bay leaf, and increasing the oregano and thyme. Instead of increasing salt, I’m going to add just a touch of nam pla (fish sauce)–or an anchovy fillet mashed would work. This is not intended to make it at all fishy just more flavorful. This needs to be stirred after an hour so that the bottom veggies don’t mush and the top be a bit undercooked. Check for doneness–don’t just trust the time. I prefer my veggies cooked but with a little “tooth” to them, so in my slow cooker this finishes in about 2 hours. I like this one as there’s no added liquid, except the dash of nam pla and what the veggies give off. Minced fresh oregano added the last 15 minutes of cooking leaves it very fresh tasting.

Bottom line: this is quick and works if you want a very light ratatouille, not complex ratatouille.  I don’t want my ratatouille over whelmed with herbs and garlic, but I’d like to make it a bit more complex, or layered flavor–maybe it needs a little more umami It has the advantage of being very quick to assemble.

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As you likely know if you’ve read other posts, I’m somewhat partial to recipes from America’s Test Kitchen.  When the published Slow Cooker Revolution I had to check it out.  I was hoping that those recipes would improve my attitude to (and increase use of ) my slow cooker. There’s no denying it’s convenience, but generally I’ve simply not been happy with the results when compared with oven or stove-top methods.

A comparison of America’s Test Kitchen recipe with the one above is interesting. One of my “complaints” is that their recipes sometimes  seem more complicated–though they do increase flavor.  The recipe below is from the Slow Cooker Revolution (Kindle edition). This is the recipe that inspired me to try the one above.  The cooking instructions are quite extensive so I’m only going to summarize them for purposes of comparison. I’m trying to find a compromise of best flavor and easy preparation.

Slow-cooker ratatouille (America’s Test Kitchen)

Serves: 10 to 12

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 eggplants (2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 zucchini (1-1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Preparation

  1. Brown eggplant, half at a time, in olive oil (5 to 7 minutes), and transfer each batch to slow cooker.
  2. Brown zucchini, half at a time, in olive oil, transferring each batch to slow cooker.
  3. Cook onions, bell peppers, garlic, and thyme until softened and lightly browned (8 to 10 minutes), stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in reserved tomato juice, scrape up browned  bits, and smooth out lumps, and transfer to slow cooker.
  4. Stir tomatoes into slow cooker, close and cook until vegetables are tender (4 to 6 hours).
  5. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Notes:  The time it takes to brown the vegetables really is not that long, so it’s worth the extra flavor. It’s a drastic difference, even when you add some umami-hyping ingredients to the Food.com recipe.

The differences here are, notably, the use of flour to thicken, the lack of tomato paste, and the preparation of the eggplant. One of my reasons for trying the recipe from Food.com is the handling of the eggplant, with the idea that salting to remove fluid might eliminate the need for flour–I doubt that you’d know there was flour in this recipe simply by tasting.

After tasting the first batch of the recipe from Food.com with the adjustments noted in Notes, it’s a keeper for simplicity. The America’s Test Kitchen is a bit richer since you’ve browned the veggies. Either is good–depends on the time and effort you want (or have) to invest.

. . . a son goût

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cooked ratatouille

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A thousand names for eggplant

I’ve always wondered about all the different names and wide use of eggplant. Here is a great post to answer some of those questions.

The Odd Pantry

Eggplant display (source: via Wikimedia Commons, user Phoebe (Own work)) Eggplant display (source: via Wikimedia Commons, user Phoebe (Own work))

Writing the eggplant post last week left me in a quandary. Since I live in the US, calling it eggplant seems natural. But then all through my childhood I called it baingan in Hindi and brinjal in English. Some of my readers from the UK will probably want to call it aubergine, while Australians, I hear, prefer the term egg fruit.

United by a common language indeed!

Well it turns out that the names of this humble vegetable have come about through a global game of Telephone (Chinese Whispers in India) involving empires and migrations of peoples. Sometimes the names have gone around the world and even come back to the source, changed, to go another round.

Intriguing.

Wight, R., Illustrations of Indian botany, or figures illustrative of each of the natural orders of Indian plants, vol. 2: t. 166 (1850) [Goovindo] (Source: http://plantillustrations.org) Wight, R., Illustrations of Indian botany, or figures illustrative of each of the natural orders of Indian plants, vol. 2: t. 166 (1850) [Goovindo] (Source: http://plantillustrations.org)…

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Adding to panzanella….

dark purple eggplant

Black beauty eggplant fruits

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said much about one or two of the prominent summer vegetables–eggplant and summer squash. Well, here’s something that looks like it would be a good use of the ubiquitous eggplant that I’ve ignored except for baba ganoush and caponata. I no quarrel that eggplant nutritious, inexpensive, and the like.

I’ve already posted about another summer favorite of mine–bread salad or panzanella so I was pleased to see this recipe for a bread salad using grilled eggplant.  This kind of salad is so easy to fix single-serving amounts that I wanted to pass this along as another way to make use of a summer vegetable.  The image below was included with the recipe on the website Chow.com.

bread salad with grilled eggplant closeup

Further notes on baba ghanoush…

I’ve made another batch of baba ghanoush this week as eggplants are still plentiful. This week I had the large purple, globe ones.

These large globe eggplants are significantly “wetter” than the oriental style or the white eggplants and will benefit from a longer draining time before you puree and add the other ingredients. They were still quite “drippy” after about 15 minutes so I let them drain for almost half an hour before I added the lemon, extra-virgin olive oil, tahini paste, and other seasonings.

Baba ghanoush

Market was a bit slow this past Saturday with the unrelenting rain most of the morning.  I had  lots of lovelyWhite and purple eggplants white and purple eggplants left so I’m going to make baba ghanoush.  No matter how you spell it, this creamy garlic- and lemon-spiked dip (frequently served as part of a mezze platter in Middle Eastern countries) is a delightful and simple dish to prepare when eggplants are abundant.

I started with my bookshelf on Eat Your Books to survey recipes…most were very similar.  The biggest differences were in the preparation of the eggplant.   Since I have a penchant for those that explain the whys of the recipe, I elected to use one from Perfect Vegetables (from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  That recipe noted that  the eggplants must be more than just soft–they needed to be cooked until the insides were “sloshy”.  This can be done on the grill (preferable) or in the oven (acceptable alternative).  Broiling seemed not to be an option as the outsides would be charred too much and the insides not sloshy.

See “Eggplant….” for how to select appropriately mature eggplants of good quality.

This recipe is adapted from Perfect Vegetables, page 105 (Master Recipe for Baba Ghanoush).  I used white eggplant to make this batch of baba ghanoush–they are proported to be sweeter than purple ones.

Ingredients (makes about 2 cups)

  • 2 pounds eggplant
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice  or to taste
  • 1 small clove garlic (minced or pressed)
  • 2 tablespoons tahini paste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  •  1/4 teaspoon salt and  1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Preparation

Prick the eggplants evenly over the surface with the tip of a paring knife (to prevent exploding in the oven) and place on a foil-lined baking sheet.  It’s best not to have them touching each other in order to roast most evenly. (I did spread these out more before they actually went into the oven to roast.)

Eggplant ready to go into the oven to roast

white eggplant ready to roast

Roast on the middle rack of the oven preheated to 500 ° F, turning every15minutes.  (Globe eggplants, about 60 minutes; Italian eggplants, 50 minutes; oriental/Japanese eggplants 40 minutes). Let cool until you can handle them.

Roasted white eggplant just out of the oven

roasted white eggplant just out of the oven

The eggplants should be more than just soft–they should be squishy (or sloshy as described in the recipe) after the roasting.

a very soft roasted eggplant and one cut in half

squishy eggplant

Over a colander set in a bowl, trim off  top and bottom of eggplant and slice lengthwise in half.  Using a spoon, scoop out the hot pulp into the colander.  You should have about 2 cups packed pulp.  Let the pulp drain for 10 to 15  minutes

draining eggplant flesh in colander

eggplant flesh draining in colander

Transfer the pulp to food processor bowl.  Add lemon juice, garlic, tahini, oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Process using 1-second pulses (about 8 to 10) until the pulp has a coarse, chopped texture.  Adjust seasoning as needed.

Transfer to serving dish or storage container, covering the surface with plastic film and chill lightly (about 45 to 60 minutes) before serving.

To serve

Baba ghanoush is typically served as part of a mezze platter (or like Italian antipasto) with pita bread, but crudities (peppers, cucumbers, small tomatoes, celery, et cetera) can be used as well to dip as well.

If the baba ghanoush has been thoroughly chilled, the flavor will be best if it is allowed to warm slightly before serving.

Sprinkle with chopped/minced parsley. Make a depression in the center and add a bit of extra-virgin olive oil.

Enjoy!

baba ghaoush with Sicilian olive oil and parsley

garnished with Sicilian extra-virgin olive oil and parsley

Cook’s notes

I did find that the white eggplant have more body and take longer to roast than comparable size purple ones.  The flesh is, indeed, sweeter than purple ones, so I added just a bit of extra lemon juice to the baba ghanoush than the recipe called for.  I think that I prefer the white eggplants for slicing or using whole as they do seem sturdier and to have a bit more “tooth” to them.

I  prefer a bit more garlic and lemon than this recipe calls for, as well as a pinch of cayenne pepper–not enough to be hot–just as a flavor enhancer.  If you like really lemony flavor, use a microplane grater or zester  to get some very fine zest and add just a bit to give it a real lemon kick.

Caponata!

The first time I tasted “caponata” it was mostly eggplant, and it was absolutely buried in tomato sauce.  I liked the concept, but it had kind of languished until I was looking around the kitchen at the tomatoes and eggplants that I had there.  This has been such hot, humid, torrid weather that I’m turning into a very picky eater…must be flavorful, room temperature or cold.  Needless to say I’ve eaten a lot of melons and fruits…and raw tomatoes in caprese salad, but I really needed to do something with the tomatoes and eggplants.

I decided to go looking for a recipe for caponata that looked like something I want to eat with grilled or griddled king klip since that was on special in the market today.  I started by going to EatYourBooks.com to search for caponata recipes among the books that I own (that I’ve put on my bookshelf there).  I found that I had 6 recipes for caponata.  I don’t know if it’s the weather, or what, but none looked like something I wanted to tackle this afternoon.  So I went searching online in the blogs that I like to check on.

On All Things Sicilian and more, I found a recipe that “felt” like something to do this afternoon, and it seemed loose enough that I could do it with what I had–oriental-type eggplants and little grape tomatoes.  It involves several steps, but it’s seemed approachable. A slight variation put a little garlic and some red pepper flakes into the mix as the olives that I had were marinated in those things.   Admittedly I did take a few liberties with the recipe but I think it worked well.  I did not improvise with the agro dolce–I kept those proportions.

My only real variation (other than the tomatoes) was that I treated the eggplant as described in my post on how to cook eggplant (as suggested by Cook’s Illustrated: salted very lightly, microwaved it, pressed it) and I was able to sauté all the eggplant in about a tablespoon of olive oil.

Here is the recipe from All Things Sicilian blog–the best I’ve ever tasted.  (You should go to this blog and read for more information about caponata.)

Ingredients

  • extra virgin olive oil, 1½ cups (more or less – depending how much the vegetables will absorb)
  • eggplants, 1-2  large, dark skinned variety,
  • peppers, 3, preferably 1 green, 1 red, 1 yellow (variation of colour is mainly for appearance, but the red and yellow ones taste sweeter)
  • onion, 1, large, sliced thinly
  • red tomatoes, 2 medium size, peeled and chopped, or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and a little water
  • capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
  • green olives, ¾ cup, stoned, chopped
  • celery, 2-3 tender stalks and the pale green leaves (both from the centre of the celery)
  • white, wine vinegar, ½ cup
  • sugar, 2 tablespoons
  • salt and freshly ground pepper 

Preparation

For caponata vegetables

  1. Cut the eggplant into cubes (approx 30mm) – do not peel. Place the cubes into abundant water with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Leave for about 30 minutes – this will keep the flesh white and the eggplant is said to absorb less oil if soaked previously.
  2. Prepare the capers – if they are the salted variety, ensure they have been rinsed thoroughly and then soaked for about 30 minutes before use, and then rinsed again.
  3. Cut the peppers into slices (approx 20mm) or into rectangular shapes.
  4. Slice the onion.
  5. Slice the celery sticks and the green leaves finely.
  6. Peel, and coarsely chop the tomatoes (or use tomato paste).
  7. Drain the eggplants and squeeze them to remove as much water as possible – I use a clean tea towel.
  8. Heat a large frypan over medium heat with ¾ cup of the extra virgin olive oil.
  9. Add eggplant cubes and sauté until soft and golden (about 10-12 minutes). Place the drained eggplants into a large bowl and set aside (all of the vegetables will be added to this same bowl). If you want to, drain the oil from the eggplants back into the same frypan and re-use this oil to fry the next ingredients – the peppers.
  10. Add new oil (to the left-over eggplant oil) plus a little salt and sauté the peppers,until wilted and beginning to turn brown (about 10-12 minutes). Remove the peppers from the pan and drain the oil from the peppers back into the same frypan. Place the peppers in the bowl with the eggplants.
  11. Add a little more oil to the pan and sauté the celery gently for 5-7 minutes, so that it retains some of its crispness (in more traditional recipes, the celery is always boiled until soft before being sautéed). Sprinkle the celery with a little salt while it is cooking.
  12. Remove the celery from the pan and add it to the eggplants and peppers.
  13. Sauté the onion having added a little more oil to the frypan. Add a little salt and cook until translucent.
  14. Empty the contents of the frypan into the bowl with the other cooked vegetables.

For the agro dolce sauce

  1. Add the sugar to the frypan (already coated with the caramelised flavours from the vegetables).
  2. Heat it very gently until it begins to melt and bubble. Add the vinegar and evaporate.
  3. Incorporate the cooked vegetables into the frypan with the agro dolce sauce.
  4. Add ground pepper, check for salt and add more if necessary. Gently toss all of the ingredients over low heat for 2-3 minutes to blend the flavours.
  5. Remove the caponata from the pan and cool before placing it into one or more containers.

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It should hold well in the refrigerator–and I know it will be even better tomorrow when the flavors have melded  more.  I’m looking forward to this with some griddled king klip tomorrow.