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ratatouille, and october

October 9th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

I love October. I love everything about it, from it’s blazing maples and fiery Sumac to the clear, crisp nights of abundant stars, the scent of woodsmoke floating on the chilled air. I love that switch to snugglier clothes and another blanket on the bed. I love a simmering soup pot, a pan of fragrant cornbread, baking with apples and fresh-pressed, rich apple cider

I just LOVE October!

I haven’t always loved Ratatouille, though. And I’ve made it multiple ways that have been OK, to an extent, but haven’t been so wonderful that I jumped at a chance to repeat the recipe. Yet every year, when the abundance of zucchini and eggplant and tomato is all there, ready and waiting to be slowly cooked together in this classic peasant dish, I always want to try something again.

There are so many ways to make a simple dish like this.

This recipe I would repeat. Over and over again. While it is a bit extensive, with the grilling and the simmering, the end result is well worth the extra effort. This Ratatouille was silky smooth and simply melted in my mouth, with hints of smokiness from the grill. And as all good dishes go, it was even better the next day.

This recipe does not use fresh tomatoes, and I love the rich flavor that fire-roasted canned tomatoes gives it. Feel free to use fresh if you wish, knowing you will lose some of that smoky taste if you do.



Ratatouille, Grilled and Simmered

3 small zucchini, sliced horizontally
1 medium eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ slices
2 medium onions, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 each red, yellow and orange bell pepper, gutted and halved
1 28-oz can fire roasted tomatoes (strongly suggested for the amazing flavor they will add- sub in fresh if you wish)
1/2 c. good quality olive oil
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. mixed fresh herbs, like oregano, thyme, parsley, basil, all finely minced
2 t. smoked paprika (smoked is preferred; use regular if it’s all you have)
Salt and pepper

Whisk the olive oil and balsamic vinegar together in a measuring cup. Brush a small amount on one side of the eggplant slices, being careful not to spread on too much. Brush some on the zucchini and reserve the remaining oil/vinegar mix for later.

In a 6-qt stockpot, heat a small drizzle of olive oil and add the sliced onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are opaque. Add the garlic, reduce the heat and cook, stirring often, until the onions and garlic are very soft.

While the onions cook, heat your grill, and when hot, place the peppers, skin side down on the hottest part. Add the sliced zucchini and eggplant, and cook until tender and slightly charred for all vegetables. Place peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam so you can remove the skin. Rough chop the zucchini and eggplant and add to the pan with the onions, stirring to combine. Drizzle in a small amount of the oil/vinegar mix to moisten and add the smoked paprika. When cool enough to handle, skin the peppers and rough chop those, adding to the pan, along with the can of tomatoes. Stir everything, get it simmering, then reduce the heat and cover the pan. Allow it to cook, slowly, for 30 minutes. Stir it once or twice to insure it isn’t sticking. Reduce heat if it is, and drizzle a bit more of the oil/vinegar mix in, if needed.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add in half the fresh herbs. Allow to simmer about 5 more minutes. Stir, taste and season more, if needed. Serve warm or room temperature, over brown rice or pasta, or with a thick, hearty bread to soak up the juices.


KATE’S NOTES: I am nuts for fire-roasted tomatoes and have tried multiple brands, always coming back to Muir Glen Organic. The taste is bar none for a canned product- it tastes like tomato right off the vine! You can use fresh tomato in this dish if that’s your thing, but the extra fire-roasted taste will lend well to the final result, along with the grilled and charred vegetables. 

The smoked paprika also adds a nice deep, smoky flavor, and has been one of my most favorite spices to add to just about everything lately. You will get a much different taste if you use regular paprika.

the post with the killer knife skills

August 30th, 2011 | 10 Comments »

Knife skills. It doesn’t just mean that you can hold a knife and cut an onion. It has nothing to do with being able to avoid cutting yourself. And it isn’t even about knowing the difference between chopped, diced and minced. (but do you know the difference??)

Knife skills are necessary in the culinary world. The proper grip, the best balance aside, knowing how to julienne, chiffonade and batonnet, make a brunoise and a tourné potato are de rigueur.   We spent hours in culinary school, hunched over cutting boards of vegetables, practicing our cuts until our hands were cramped and sore. We hissed streams of profanity sometimes at our inability to get it right, and many poorly constructed cuts were lobbed across the kitchen in frustration. We are, after all, a profession of avowed perfectionists. Knife cuts, and making them the right way is a big deal, as they are a requirement in many, many professional kitchens.

In addition to the requirements of our classes, I participated in a student culinary competition where part of our score was judged on a variety of knife skills. We practiced these skills for months, creating mountains of carrot batons in perfect symmetry, perfect little tournés of potato like tiny white footballs and enormous amounts of parsley, chopped to the consistency of sand. I never once expected they would ever benefit me until I spent a summer in the kitchen of an upscale golf club where my ability with a knife was held in high esteem. It may seem strange to always make my diced onions perfect when all they’re going in to is a soup, or to slice those carrots in perfect coins, the garlic to micro-thin slices, but this is what I know, and what I was trained to do. It doesn’t matter that it now only benefits my family (and readers of this blog). It’s a skill I’ll never unlearn, no matter what.

And it came in very handy when creating this Kale Slaw.

And this slaw was only for my eyes, really. I wasn’t making it for a magazine shoot, a fancy dinner or company at my house. But in creating something lovely, just for myself, I am raising the bar on my meals from a routine and mundane thing to a meal wtih some elegance. It didn’t have to be this good. I didn’t have to hone my chef’s knife before taking on the kale. I didn’t need to carefully slice the carrot and pepper. It didn’t have to be perfect.

But piled on a plate and dotted with crushed and whole peanuts, this Kale slaw, with it’s peanut dressing, was a thing of beauty. The dark rich green of the kale, the sharp orange carrot and pale white heirloom pepper, all snapped out from under the blade of my knife without much thought. And that’s part of the appeal. This wasn’t any special consideration. It just happens like this in my kitchen as a matter of fact. I’ve got amazing knife skills, and it isn’t something to hide, really. It’s something to share, to rejoice about and to say ‘Hey, look at that. Isn’t it pretty?’ Because it is. And it was worth all the pain in my hands, the stiff fingers and the endless amounts of hours put in to make it that way. It raises the bar on a simple meal, eaten at my patio table with a pretty basic glass of wine. It makes a Saturday evening alone just that much more fun and exciting.

Those of you who know me outside of this site know I am not very boastful. I’m not one to accept praise all that often, but you put a knife in my hands and I’m going to show you what I can do because this is a skill I am proud of, and one that didn’t come easily. I have pretty severe repetitive stress injuries in both my wrists, and learning to do this in school was torturous and sometimes left me in tears, with my pained hands resting in ice water to reduce the inflammation. My work at the golf club was often hampered by this affliction, but to hear the chef comment on how nice my vegetable trays looked made the discomfort worthwhile, even as I bit back the pain and went home to ice baths and Advil.

I love the earthy crunch to this slaw and the nutty flavor of the dressing. The kale isn’t cooked, but the dressing soaks in to it and softens the texture nicely. I used lacinato kale and loved the dark color against the carrot and pepper. I think some red cabbage in this would be very pretty too, or the lighter frilly green of Savoy. If you don’t care for peanuts or can’t have them, try using almonds, or pecans. One nice aspect of this recipe, and using raw kale is that even the next day there’s no soggy leaves. The sturdy kale can withstand an overnight, bathed in this nice dressing and still maintain good crunch for lunch on the second day. The overall flavor of the salad was richer, and more pronounced too.


Kale Slaw with Peanut Dressing

2 large bunches of kale, either lacinato or curly, washed and spun dry
2 medium red pepper, sliced very thin
2 carrots, peeled and sliced lengthwise
1 c. roasted peanuts
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. packed brown sugar
1/4 t. sea salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes

Fold kale leaves in half and tear out tough stems. Roll leaves tightly and slice thinly into very fine ribbons. Toss kale in a bowl with the pepper, carrot and half a cup of whole peanuts.

In a measuring cup, whisk the oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper flakes. Using a food chopper or small food processor, chop the remaining half cup of peanuts into mostly fine pieces. Remove from chopper and add 2-3 tablespoons of them to the dressing, and whisk to mix. Pour dressing over kale, toss to coat and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Toss again and serve, sprinkled with remaining crushed peanuts.