Archive for the ‘Buying local’ Category

All summer long ratatouille

11 July 2022

All these years and I’ve been making ratatouille backwards. For as long as I can remember, I’ve started with the aubergines and finished with the tomatoes. I don’t know why and it should (obviously!) be the other way around.

There are many ways to make ratatouille. Some profess each vegetable should be cooked separately to preserve its individual taste before all are combined and left to confit together very slowly. This sounds terribly delicious. On the other hand, the more distant origin of the word ratatouille — from the Occitan ‘ratatolha‘ — is that of a coarse (bad?) stew. And while there is nothing bad about my ratatouille (even the backwards one that was my habit!) I like its humbler origin — an effortless dish for life in summer.

The whole point of ratatouille is simplicity. Its preparation — cutting vegetables, just agree on the approximate size — can enlist anyone idling around. It is easily made in large batches for imprecise, extended, friends and family meals. It should, in fact, be made in enormous quantities because cold leftover ratatouille is even better. And in any case it keeps for a few days. It goes equally well with grilled fish, roast chicken, meat on the barbecue, as a lunchtime ‘salad,’ or stirred into a mess of eggs for a ratatouille frittata.

It is the quintessential summer dish.

Right-way-around ratatouille recipe

The quantities are suggestions only, for approximate ratio. I usually make a much larger batch.
The size and shape (cubes vs slices) into which the vegetables are prepared depends on my mood or who is cutting. The important thing is that all the vegetables follow the same principle and are roughly the same size.

Onions (3 medium)
Olive oil
Salt (I like to use coarse grey sea salt)
Garlic (4 cloves)
Red or green peppers (one)
Tomatoes (3 or 4)
Aubergine/eggplant (1 medium)
Courgettes/zucchini (5 or 6 smallish ones)
Bay leaves
Fresh rosemary, thyme, Summer savory (one or all of these)
Good wine vinegar (For this I like to make use of my small bottle of moscatel vinegar, which is slightly sweet, but any good wine vinegar is fine)

Peel the onions and cut them into large dice (or half moons).

Pour enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of a heavy-bottomed saucepan, turn on the heat (medium to low). When the oil is hot, after a brief minute, put int the cut onions, stir, salt with a good pinch, and let the onions brown, lid on (keeping an eye and stirring occasionally so they don’t burn), while prepapring the garlic and peppers.

Squish the garlic cloves with the side of a knife, remove the husk, and cut coarsely.

Wash, deseed, and cut the pepper into small cubes (or thin slices).

Once the onions are starting to turn golden, add the garlic and peppers, stir, close the lid, and let stew while preparing the tomatoes.

Wash and cut the tomatoes into chunks (or thin wedges). Add them to the pot with another good pinch of salt.

Let the onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes cook until they start melding and resembling a sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the vegetables: Wash, remove the stem, and cut the aubergines (eggplant) into slices, then each slice into cubes. Wash, remove the end, and cut the courgettes (zucchini) into slices or cubes.

When the vegetables in the pot begin to ressemble a tomato-y sauce, add the aubergines and courgettes with another generous pinch of salt. Add the herbs, any mix as strikes your fancy. I think bay leaf is indispensable.

Cook for at least an hour, perhaps an hour an a half, over low heat, until all the vegetables have softened completely.

Stir in one or two tablespoons of vinegar, just enough to tease out the acidity.

Eat hot or at room temperature or cold out of the fridge the next day.

Green asparagus with spring onions

10 June 2021

Some dishes are ideas more than recipes, they creep into our lives unawares.

I have had a few favourite asparagus recipes, and written about them, each time touting their priviledged status and every time I was completely sincere. And here I am, with yet another ‘favourite’. Seasons and appetites change, new preferences do not preclude lasting affections.

I made this simple dish last year, probably guided by the entrails of our fridge: asparagus and spring onions being (again this year) our spring staples. It remained etched in the margins of my cook’s memory. This year, it’s all I’ve wanted to do with asparagus.

Perfect company for an easy barbecue, it could also be cooked on the fire, but our balcony-intended cast-iron grill is too small and barely fits steak for six, so I make it in a skillet on the stove.

Asparagus with spring onions recipe

A rule of thumb for quantities is one third spring onions to two thirds asparagus

Asparagus (see note on quantities above)
Spring onion (see note on quantities above)
Olive oil
Soya sauce
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim the tough ends of the asparagus stalks; rinse in cold water.

Trim the roots and leaf tips of the spring onions (I like to also remove one layer if it’s starting to wilt). Rinse the onions to remove any grit. With the blunt side of a wide knife, flatten (crush) the spring onions lengthwise.

In a large bowl, combine the asparagus and spring onions with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a discreet splash of soya sauce, pinch of salt, and lots of black pepper. Toss to ‘dress’ the vegetables.

If using a barbecue, grill the vegetables / if using a skillet, add a bit of olive oil and fry over high heat for 5 to 7 minutes until the vegetables are nicely coloured and still firm.


Baked apples

26 January 2017

img_8978

January is the time to huddle close, meet friends, have a pint, a meal, a whiskey nightcap. But after months of cooking and feasting, dim winter days call for easy comforts. Delicious meals that require barely any effort. Hardly a thought. Simple dishes that can be effortlessly adapted with whatever languishes in a pantry in the aftermath of holiday baking marathons.

Baked apples for instance. The basics are simple, the variations many: wash an apple, core it, stuff it, bake it, eat it warm with a dollop of cream.

IMG_9213.jpg

Any apple will do. Some hold their figure while others erupt into shapeless volcanoes; anything is fine by me. For the stuffing the elements might be dried fruits — for example raisins, chopped dates, cranberries; chopped nuts — pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds; some sweetness and spice — brown sugar, dark sugar, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, lemon zest, ginger, allspice, cardamom. A splash of fortified wine. For serving, a generous spoonful of cream.

img_8904

Baked apples recipe

One whole apple per person
Currants (or raisins, cranberries, chopped dates or apricots)
Pecans (or walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds)
Dark muscovado sugar (or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup)
Ginger and cardamom (or cinnamon, allspice, lemon zest)
Sherry (or Marsala, Madeira)
Clotted cream (or crème fraîche, ice cream, yogurt) for serving

Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C)

Wash and core the apples (leaving them whole)

Toss the nuts, dried fruits, sugar, and spices together. Stuff each apple with the mixture. Sprinkle with a dash of wine if using. Send into the oven for 25 to 40 minutes, until the apples are soft through.

Let cool just a little and serve warm with a spoonful of cream.

img_8932

Simple things | Radishes with butter and salt

24 April 2015

IMG_0089

Pleasures of spring. The weather entices away from kitchen and stoves. Eating becomes simpler. Food speaks for itself, cooking takes a sidestep.

This could be breakfast; an afternoon snack; apéro bites; the start of dinner. With a slice of good bread.

It’s just a reminder.

IMG_0114

Rhubarb rosemary jam

7 June 2014

photo(22)

This is me realizing that jam need not be a well planned out, day-long project. It can be, of course, and should, on occasion, because is there a better way to spend a day than whiling away the hours hunched over bubbling vats of sugared fruit? This is not about those days. This is about how making jam can be an afterthought, as easy as clearing out the fridge before a week-long holiday.

I was the first to consider jam making an incredibly laborious process. Carefully timed trips to the market to grab the last of the season’s fruit at an unbeatable bargain, endless kilos of berries to cut and trim and wash, giant jam pans boiling furiously for hours… I didn’t make jam very often. For one, market vendors in New York don’t usually sell off fruits for a good bargain, even as they pack up to leave  (I’ve tried); second, fruit at home often disappears so quickly I need to hide it to keep it safe (and I have); third, I don’t own a jam pan, giant or otherwise.

So I don’t (didn’t) make much jam. There were exceptions, naturally, few and far between, so noteworthy I usually recorded them, here, and here.

A few years ago my mother gave me Christine Ferber’s book (available only in French). Christine Ferber is a world re-known Frenchwoman from Alsace, widely described as the ‘fée des confitures’ (jam fairy). I’ve never actually eaten from one of her jars, but I have read so many tantalizing descriptions that I feel I might have. Taken literally, her technique is quite time-consuming, but using her inspiration, some latitude, and a little improvisation (she would be appalled), I’ve realized that making jam can actually fit quite snugly into my life.

Key is that the process in divided into two parts. In the evening, prep the fruit, mix it with sugar and lemon juice, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, cook the jam. Chances are, it’s easier to find 15 quick minutes in the evening and another 45 of mostly cooking time the next day, than scheduling a full long slot for the entire process.

Emboldened by this realization, last week I made jam, the easiest thing I found to save a few remaining bunches of rhubarb.

Rhubarb jam recipe

1 kg rhubarb

1 kg sugar

Juice from one lemon

Few sprigs rosemary

Wash the rhubarb, trim the ends, and chop the stalks into 1/2 inch (1 cm) pieces.

In a saucepan, mix the rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice.

Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

The next morning, cook the jam. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for approximately 30 minutes. At first it will bubble furiously, but as the jam jells it thickens, the bubbles slow down and burst at a more leisurely pace. To check whether the juice has “gelled,” take out a small spoonful and let it cool. Once cold, the juice should have thickened in the spoon, and when you try to pour it the drip is not liquid but heavy, as though it was sticking to the spoon. Cook longer if necessary and check again.

Meanwhile, sterilize the jars in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes.

Once the jam is ready, stir in the rosemary to steep for about 5 minutes. Remove. Pour into sterilized jars and close tightly.

Jam is best stored for a few weeks (and up to a year at least) before eating.

 

 


%d bloggers like this: