Navigating myself in my kitchen after a couple weeks away is like missing your favorite TV show. I couldn’t wait to start cooking again and make some tasty dishes, and I have been inspired by the Italian lifestyle to eat less. Rather than reaching for something hearty like steak or hamburger, my stomach was yearning for beautiful roasted vegetables.
When I was grocery shopping this past week, I didn’t realize that I randomly bought two different colored squashes and eggplant. It somehow made it into my shopping cart because I probably wanted to make a stir-fry of veggies. My girlfriend was coming over for belated birthday celebration dinner and requested the menu be wheat and grain-free. I really wanted to prepare a simple pasta dish inspired from my Italy vacation but I will save it for another day when her diet restrictions are over.
Luckily, I had some chicken breasts and these veggies that I could easily prepare for Ratatouille. I could have made a simple dinner of grilled chicken and salad, but I wanted something a little festive and special for my girlfriend. Ratatouille is a simple peasant dish (usually served as a side dish or can be a main dish) with roasted tomatoes and bell peppers, onions, sliced up squash and eggplant, and some spices from the garden. The combination of the stewed tomatoes, slow-roasted bell peppers and spices is like explosion of fresh garden flavors - incredibly hearty and delicious. Add a touch of freshly grated pecorino cheese on top and it’s a perfect meal all by itself.
Happy Birthday Arminda…next month we’ll make your birthday cake.
Ratatouille aka Confit Byaldi
Adapted from Thomas Keller
For the Piperade (bottom layer):
1 red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 cup white onions, diced
3 to 4 vine-ripe tomatoes (about 12 ounces total weight), peeled, seeded and finely diced, juices reserved
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
1 bay leaf
For the Vegetables:
1 medium yellow squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch-thick rounds
1 medium green squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch-thick rounds
1 eggplant (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch-thick rounds
½ teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
⅛ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Assorted fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, and basil)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the bottom (piperade) - preheat oven to 450 degrees.Place the bell pepper halves on a lined baking sheet with foil, cut side down. Roast the peppers until the skin loosens, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Discard the skins and chop finely. Set aside. Lower the heat of the oven to 275 degrees.
In a medium Dutch oven over low heat, add the oil, garlic and onions and cook until translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes & juices, chopped herbs and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes, until the liquid has reduced. Add the chopped peppers. Taste for seasonings, and add salt and pepper. Reserve a cup of the mixture to spread on the bottom of the casserole pan.
Arrange the veggies in a round pie dish or casserole pan. Place the reserved piperade on the bottom of the pan, and arrange the vegetables in a circular manner (eggplant, yellow and green squash) and continue until you have no more room. You may not use all the vegetables.
In a small bowl, combine the chopped garlic, and oil. Drizzle over the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Add a couple sprigs of thyme on top. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake until the vegetables are tender, about 90 minutes to 120 minutes. Uncover the last 30 minutes of cooking.
Make the vinaigrette, mix the reserved piperade, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper in a bowl.
To serve, place a cup of the mixture of the vinaigrette on the bottom of the plate, slice in quarters the vegetables and lift carefully on the plate and place it on top of the piperade and fan it out. Garnish with fresh chopped basil.
Review: One of my favorite meals that I can’t wait to make again and it’s from one of my favorite Disney movies as well. Ratatouille always brings a smile to my face - inspiring me to cook, and eating something hearty and fresh on a plate. Like the adorable wannabe chef/rat “Remy” had said in the movie “If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff.” Yes, I agree with you Remy – I want all the good stuff on a plate, too.