Thursday, March 17, 2016

Ratatouille







     Ratatouille! 
     Ratatouille simply translates to a stirred stew.  Ratatouille originated in Nice, France and it is a signature entrée of the Provence region.  Ratatouille is usually only made with field vegetables and herbs with no meat or meat broth.  Some chefs add mushrooms to enhance the flavor.
    Many chefs try to overcomplicate the traditional ratatouille recipe.  Some chefs insist upon layering the ingredients in a certain order, while other chefs demand that the ingredients be cooked separately.  Neither of those ratatouille cooking methods are correct, because by definition, ratatouille is a stirred stew.  This means that the stew is occasionally stirred till the ingredients are fully cooked.  Because vegetables are the featured ingredient, this also means that the ratatouille cooks in a relatively short amount of time.  The vegetables should only be simmered till they are tender and the flavors meld.
     There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  Ratatouille is simple French country style cooking at its best.  There is no shame in making food that looks like a stew!  Stewing is one of the oldest and greatest cooking techniques on earth, so cherish a stew for what it is!  As far as stews go, French Ratatouille is one of the best.

     There are two methods that I use to make ratatouille.  The first method is an easy method, which involves making a rustic stirred vegetable stew in one pot.  This simple method is described in today's recipe.
     The second ratatouille cooking method involves enhancing the vegetable flavor and this method is fairly simple too.  First, remove the seeds and pulp from the squash.  The squash pulp is then sautéed till it is caramelized.  Then tomato paste is added and the tomato paste is sautéed with the squash pulp till the tomato is lightly caramelized.  This French technique is called "Pincer," which means "to pinch more flavor from the food that is cooked." 
     After pinching flavor from the squash pulp and tomato, water is added to create a rich flavorful dark vegetable broth.  The broth is simmered and reduced, then poured through a fine mesh strainer.  The rich tasting Nicoise style vegetable broth is added to the ratatouille, after the vegetables are briefly sautéed.  This same pincer method is used to create the classic sauce for Poulet Nicoise!   
 
     Rustique Ratatouille:
     This recipe yields 2 large portions.  (About 5 1/2 cups)  
     The secret to making a good ratatouille is knowing when the vegetables are cooked tender, without being over cooked!  The herbs will be at their aromatic peak at that same time.  
     A few pinches of  Traditional Classic French Herbs de Provence can be substituted for the long list of herbs in this recipe, if you wish.  Keep in mind that the traditional French Herbs de Provence contains no lavender flowers!  Traditional French Herbs de Provence may contain lavender leaves.    
     Step 1:  Heat a wide sauce pot or braising pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of chopped garlic.
     Sauté the garlic till it is a golden color.
     Step 2:  Add 1/4 cup of diced celery.
     Add 1/4 cup of diced onion.
     Add 1/4 cup of diced leek.
     Add 2 small chopped green onions.
     Sauté and stir till the onions turn clear and translucent.
     Step 3:  Add 2 cups of zucchini that is sliced in half lengthwise and cut into large bite size pieces.
     Add 1 cup of yellow squash that is sliced in half lengthwise and cut into large bite size pieces.
     Add 2 cups of Chinese purple eggplant that is sliced in half lengthwise and cut into large bite size pieces.
     Add 1 cup of chopped peeled plum tomato.
     Add 1/3 cup of red bell pepper that is cut into large bite size pieces.
     Add 1/3 cup of yellow bell pepper that is cut into large bite size pieces.
     Briefly sauté and stir till the vegetables just start to cook.
     Step 4:  Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of thyme leaves.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of marjoram.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of tarragon.
     Add 1 pinch of rubbed sage.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of Spanish Paprika.
     Add 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh basil leaves.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced fresh chervil.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of chopped Italian Parsley.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Stir the ingredients.
     Step 5:  Add 2 1/3 cups of vegetable stock.
     Add 1/4 cup of tomato puree.
     Bring the stew to a gentle boil.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to a medium low heat.
     Gently simmer and reduce till the vegetables are tender and the broth gains a rich flavor.  Be sure to stir the stew occasionally, so the vegetables cook evenly.
 
     Ratatouille Presentation (Vegetarian):
     This recipe describes 1 portion.  
     Remove the bay leaf.
     Spoon 2 1/2 cups of the ratatouille into a shallow bowl.
     No garnish is necessary!
     Serve with sliced French baguette on the side.
 
     Ratatouille au Fromage:
     Ratatouille au Fromage is very popular.  For Ratatouille au Fromage, a nice select cheese is melted on the ratatouille.  
     For Ratatouille au Gratin, simply bake till golden brown highlights appear on the cheese!
     Step 1:  Place 2 1/2 cups of the ratatouille in an oven proof bowl or single portion casserole dish.
     Sprinkle 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of your choice of grated melting cheese on the ratatouille.  (Gruyere, Swiss Ementaler or Monterey Jack are good choices.
     Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of fine French bread crumbs on the cheese.  (optional)
     Step 2:  Place the bowl under a broiler or in a 350ºF oven.
     Bake or broil till the cheese melts or till golden brown highlights appear.  (Never let cheese completely brown or the flavor will taste bitter!)
     Step 3:  Place the hot bowl on a doily lined serving dish.
     No garnish is necessary!
     Serve with sliced French baguette on the side.
 
     The flavor and aroma of ratatouille is satisfying and delicious!  The tummy actually hungers for more, after the first bite!  Ratatouille is one of the healthiest meals that there is.

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