Wednesday, April 9, 2008

How to Ratatouille

It doesn’t get any more rustic than ratatouille. Although the name is French, there can be no country of origin for this dish because it exists in every cuisine in one form or another. The purpose of this article, however, is not to aggravate the French, but to learn how to make ratatouille with someone else.
Recipes are inherently solitary. A person will read a cookbook alone, get excited about a particular recipe, and then make the recipe by themselves in order to impress the guests. Let’s take the pomposity out of the kitchen: turn it into a family recipe by cooking with family and friends.
Spending time with family and friends in the kitchen is a wonderful thing. Often the process is more rewarding than the result. (This however is not true if two or more of the cooking party are chefs, or if there are more than three hungry Italians in a kitchen brandishing knives.) The main ingredient needed here is love, it can’t be stressed enough. If the love is there while you’re cooking, it will shine through in the first bite. It also doesn’t hurt to know something about cooking.

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
4 onions, sliced
1/3 cup of white wine
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 green pepper, sliced in wedges
2 red peppers, sliced in wedges
3 ½ cups of Italian eggplant (about 2 eggplants)
3 ½ cups of zucchini (about 2 zucchini)
7 large cloves of garlic,5 minced, 2 whole
1 can of plum tomatoes-796ml
1 to 1 ½ cups of chicken stock,-if you don’t use homemade buy a low sodium chicken stock
¾ cup of basil and Italian flat leaf parsley combined, chopped and fresh

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 8 minutes.
2. Add the wine and deglaze. Scrape any brown stains of goodness that might have formed at the bottom of the pot and cook until alcohol evaporates, about 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Turn the heat to medium low. Add the tomato paste and cook until it completely coats the onions and develops a deep rust color, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the vegetables in the following sequence, adding ½” teaspoon of salt with each addition: green and red peppers, eggplant, and the zucchini. Cook each vegetable until it softens-about 2 to 3 minutes- before adding the next.
5. Once everything is in the pot, it’s important to cook the vegetables until they begin to brown slightly around the edges, about 4 to 5 minutes. During this step, stir more often as the onions have a tendency to stick.
6. Add all the garlic, and the can of plum tomatoes. Break the tomatoes with your wooden spoon, or better yet, with your hand and mix well.
7. Add the chicken stock until the liquid just covers the vegetables. (This is not soup, so make sure it’s not to watery.) Turn heat to low, and bring your creation to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.

Fig. 2. Stock should be at the same level as your vegetables.

8. Let the ratatouille stew and simmer semi-covered until the vegetables become moist, stirring occasionally, about 1 ½ hours. Use this time to enjoy a nice glass of wine with your cooking partner.

Fig. 3. After 1 ½ hours.

9. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking, add the fresh basil and parsley, and enjoy.

Fig. 4. Good enough for Rémy.

I like to serve it with a pinch of sea salt, some freshly ground black pepper, some grated parmiggiano reggiano cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and a couple of slices of toasted French baguette.
Cooking with someone is time well spent. You create not just food, but memories. This recipe serves eight. So invite your family, or you friends; better yet, double the recipe and invite them all.

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