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eat local challenge: ratatouille to the rescue!

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By foodorleans · June 14, 2013 · 0 Comments ·
For my second local-food recipe this week, I've gone as simple as you can, when it comes to dealing with all the squash, eggplant, and tomatoes we have running around here right now: ratatouille.  There's nothing better for taking advantage of our currently booming crops like this simple, homey, ultra-satisfying melange of eggplant, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, and herbs.  Moreover, ratatouille is highly adaptable and very versatile! You can eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks; you can eat it as a main dish, over rice or potatoes, with cheese or without, or as a side dish to just about anything (I busted out some roasted chicken for this one, but sauteed shrimp or baked fish, or even grilled sausages would be super). You can also add or subtract ingredients as you wish, but keep in mind that this is basically a quick-cooking stew of soft, mildly flavored, yet colorful vegetables, so you might not want to add, say, beets. They'd just bloody everything up.

Because most of the vegetables used in ratatouille are rather "shyly" flavored, you'll want to use a good dose of herbs for flavor.  Rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano are all typically French and typically perfect in ratatouille.  You'll also need salt, and vinegar or wine really helps brighten things up at the end.  If you're not opposed to a non-local ingredient, you can throw some kalamata olives in there and boost the flavor quite a bit. Cook ratatouille as long as you like for the desired consistency: I like the eggplant to get really soft and velvety but I like a little bite left in the squashes, so I throw everything in together and just let it work itself out. But if you like more assertively textured eggplant, you might want to add it after the squash gets going for a bit.

after cooking about 10 minutes, everything together

after cooking about 20 minutes. It looks like there are olives in there, but that's really just the bits of skin I left on the eggplant.

ratatouille

  • 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, or other oil
  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled if desired, diced in 1" cubes (I peel half the skin off so I can keep some purple color)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 4 or 5 summer squash, any variety (I used 1 zucchini, 2 yellow crooknecks, and 1 large white pattypan), diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 or 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 2 to 4 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano, in any combination)
  • 1 teaspoon cane vinegar or 2 teaspoons white or red wine
  1. Heat a large saute pan with high sides over medium-high heat and pour in the oil. 
  2. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant, red bell pepper, squash, and garlic, along with 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Stir and saute for a few minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until things start to get soft.
  3. Add the tomatoes and herbs, stir well, and continue cooking over medium heat for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. It will stick a little no matter what.  When things are getting really soft, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking another 10 minutes, or until the texture is to your liking and everything is tender.  Add in the vinegar or wine at the last second and stir to combine.
  4. Taste and adjust seasoning; you may need more salt (I used about 3 teaspoons total).

serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish

5 easy pieces, part 2: roasted potatoes and turnips

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By foodorleans · November 28, 2012 · 0 Comments ·
There's nothing easier than roasting vegetables, and this is a great combination that yields crispy red-skinned potatoes, caramelized sweet potatoes, and robust little baby turnips whose tops become crunchy after a long baking time.  I love to cook vegetables this way; it's an easy side dish that will go with just about anything, needs hardly any seasoning at all, and will look after itself for most of its oven time.  Sometimes I'll pop a pan of veggies in the oven and THEN decide what the main course will be for dinner, while they're baking.  

You can season roasted roots however you want: salt and pepper, fresh or dried herbs, spices such as curry powder or paprika.  There are no rules! I've never tried a roasted vegetable I didn't like.  Lagniappe: Make a really big batch, then puree the leftovers the next day with chicken stock for roasted vegetable soup!

roasted potatoes and turnips

  • 3 medium red skinned potatoes, cut in 1" chunks
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, cut in 1" chunks
  • 1 pound baby turnips, tops trimmed (or regular turnips, cut in 1" chunks)
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste (plus any herbs and/or spices you like)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400.
  2. In a large, shallow baking pan, combine the potatoes and turnips.  Drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Toss with your hands to coat and distribute the oil evenly, spreading everything out into a single layer.  Add more seasoning if necessary.
  3. Roast for 40 to 60 minutes, until browned and tender, stirring once or twice throughout the cooking process. 

serves 3 as a side dish

See part 1 of 5 Easy Pieces: smoked salmon breakfast pizza

un petit tour de france: ratatouille and rice gratin

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By foodorleans · July 23, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

Yesterday, I was inspired once again to buy local, seasonal produce and see what I could make with it.  The inspiration came from this wonderful French documentary, Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution (more on that below*).  When I got to the store, I wasn't set on a French menu by any means, but I just did this staring thing I've been doing lately--I stand in front of the produce wall and stare straight ahead.  I soften my eyes and don't try to focus on anything, and see what colors stand out to me.  This is not unlike the way I look at a painting by Monet or Renoir--there's that Frenchiness again.  This time, eggplant and squash called to me.  And that one plump red bell pepper, all alone.  So I was struck with the solution of ratatouille, and just went all-out French and bought a whole chicken to roast.  Why the heck not?

[veggies roasted and ready for layering]

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