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September 2013

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Starving Artists in the Kitchen--Ratatouille!





Joseph’s take on Ratatouille!



I introduced J. to this lovely dish a couple of years ago, but he’s really taken off with it. I like his better than mine, now...sooo nice to smell that aroma wafting in from the kitchen as I type!

After my first husband passed away, I missed cooking for someone besides myself–so I arranged to go one day a week to my friend Patti’s after she got home from work, and one day to my cousin Keith’s family to keep my hand in! Ratatouille was always a big hit, and among the most-requested entrees. I’ve even cooked it for a dinner party at Jim and Ginger Nelson’s, who own Olde English Garden Shoppe. That’s where I show my art, and they carry some fantastic goodies, including Lemon Curd with their own label (but imported from Jolly Old England!)–drop by http://englishgardenshop.com/ (though I won’t promise ratatouille there at the shop...)

This dish always made a hit–it’s hearty peasant fare with a slightly sophisticated air. The word is Occitan, apparently–that’s a language spoken in Southern France, the Occitan Valleys of Italy, Monaco and in the Aran Valley of Spain, according to Wikipedia–but also from the French touiller–“to toss food.”

Soooo–FOOD FIGHT, anyone?!?! ;=)

More from Wiki here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratatouille

I used to serve this over rice, or by dipping a chunk of bread into the broth, but mostly do without grains these days to avoid carbs that don’t come with much nutritional value. You need feel no such compunction, of course! (Home made bread. Crusty. Soaked in this luscious broth...ohhhhhh....)

*Ahem.* ANYway...here’s J’s delicious version, with my notes..




The chef's in the kitchen, starting the ratatouille!


1. 2 lbs sweet Italian sausage – turkey is good if you need to cut down on the saturated fat*


Into the soup pot, once browned!


1 Vidalia onion, chopped

1 pkg “Stop Light” peppers – one red, one yellow, one green, chopped (If you’re looking to save money, three greens will just work fine.) Kate’s note: but it’s not as pretty...

1 small eggplant, chopped

2 summer squash (yellow or zukes or both), chopped


J. cutting the eggplant into bite-size chunks

Extra virgin olive oil (Canola oil is fine too.)

Spices to taste – garlic, basil, oregano, fennel
Note: as each item is browned, it is added to a large pot on low heat on the back burner. To brown this much you either need a BIG skillet (ours is an antique made of pressed steel, 13” in diameter) or you can do it in smaller batches and then dump it all together to finish cooking. (Otherwise it just sort of steams...)

Brown cut-up sausage in oil.

Brown onion and peppers in oil and grease from sausage. Add the herbs and spices. We almost never measure these – just whatever looks and smells right.

Brown eggplant – you will need to add more oil as eggplant is very thirsty. When eggplant is almost done, add the summer squash and brown them both together.

Everything should now be put in the large pot which you will leave on low heat for at least a couple of hours prior to serving.
 

Go ahead, taste it! You KNOW you want to...

It can be served as-is, though I may add a little good pasta sauce (Victoria Organic Tomato & Basil* is my favorite, though we can’t seem to find it locally–look around, it’s worth it!) and some Parmesan/Romano/Asiago cheese.
--------

Kate’s Note #1: By the way, the traditional version says tomatoes are *mandatory.* Ooops. I don’t put ‘em in when I make it...anyway, it’s hard to saute ripe tomatoes.
;-)

Kate’s Note #2: The French chef often uses Herbes de Provence for this, a delightful mixture that usually involves rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay leaf, thyme, and sometimes lavender flowers and other herbs, with the thyme flavor usually dominant. (According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, some cooks maintain that lavender is an essential ingredient of true herbes de provence.) But since the mixture sold by this name didn’t come into existence till the 1970s, I’d say use what you like and call it what you want. I guess “Herbes a lá Joseph” works here!

Kate’s Note #3: If you can stand NOT to eat this the same day, it gets even better overnight, as the flavors “marry.” You can also remove most of the fat, which rises to the top when cold. (There will be a lot less fat, of course, if you’ve opted for turkey instead of pork sausage.)
 
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If you’re wondering what the heck Vidalia onions are (J. just said “EVERYBODY knows what Vidalia onions are!” What an optimist...) you can check out their official site, at http://www.vidaliaonion.org/index.php

Here’s a bit of history from their site: “Did you know the discovery of our now-famous sweet onions was actually a fluke? Farmers in the 1930s were disappointed with results from traditional row crops like cotton and tobacco. Looking for a new “cash cow,” they planted onions. Imagine their surprise when the fledgling crop turned out sweet instead of hot like regular onions!

In the early 1940s, the State of Georgia built a farmers’ market in Vidalia. It was located at the junction of many of the state’s most bustling roads, and word soon spread of an amazingly different onion, repeatedly described as “those sweet onions from Vidalia."

(Hey, I can still remember when you could ONLY get them for a brief period during the year, and they had to actually come from Vidalia, Georgia. Life is good, I can get them here in Missouri, almost any time...)

* The organic tomato sauce we love can be found here, if your grocer doesn’t carry it–ours doesn’t!
Victoria Organic Tomato Basil Sauce
 



☛ Dr. Loren Cordain recommends turkey, specifically turkey breast meat, as the best meat bargain, nutritionally, with 94% protein to only 5% fat in The Paleo Diet: , page 102. Turkey thighs, skin, and such are less highly recommended, of course. Rats!

We usually get Honeysuckle White lean sweet turkey Italian sausage–it’s got 71% less fat than USDA guidelines for pork sausage...here’s info from The Daily Plate: http://tinyurl.com/56co5v–it’s not the lowest calorie alternative around, but it IS the leanest Italian sausage we could find!

Another website, Diets in Review.com, references it here: http://tinyurl.com/636gen (preview URL here: http://preview.tinyurl.com/636gen) and let me tell you it IS delicious! You’d never know it was not regular Italian sausage if you didn’t have both, side by side...
 
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For you artists out there--the illustration was done with ink and watercolor (sepia ink on the veggies, black on the wire basket), one of my favorite combinations--so much so that I did a CD on the technique, and started a Flickr group pool for artists with similar interests. You can visit us here, and see art from all over the world!
http://www.flickr.com/groups/ink-and-watercolor-wash/
 
Note: for earlier entries in our Starving Artists series, just click in the link below, or in the list of tags at left...

Comments

(Anonymous)

umm...yum....
Thanks.
annie
You're welcome, Annie! I tried to put part of the recipe behind a cut since there were more photos, but it wasn't working, today...no idea why. Hope it doesn't take too long to load...
i'd love to try that with vegan sausage.
If you do, let me know how it turns out! Do they make Italian? You can always add extra garlic, basil, and fennel seed to the pot, of course...
yes, you can get vegan Italian sausage. it's really good. Made with soy, so it's not as greasy as the real thing.
That's the good thing about the turkey sausage, too! Not nearly as greasy...

I try to avoid soy in my own diet, so I guess I'll stick with turkey...but this should work fine as a vegan dish!

(Anonymous)

Yum, yum!

I have copied down your recipe and I can hardly wait to make it!! It looks and sounds delicious. Thank you for sharing.
Chaska Peacock

Re: Yum, yum!

It IS delicious, Chaska! It's really lovely at this time of year, but I also make it when the gardens and farmers' markets are at their best.
This sounds delicious!
IT IS!!
In case anyone was wondering, the white stuff in the soup pot on top of the browned sauage ("Into the soup pot, once browned!") is chopped garlic - the bottled stuff from Spice World. So that should give you an idea of how much of that we use!
Yah, I'm amazed mosquitoes bother us at all!

Cool that your cousin must be reading our blogs and offered to share a recipe! It is a TINY world...
i do use the requisite tomatoes, and after i reduce it via simmering, i serve it up, ladleful at a time, rolled in a crepe. it keeps my intake a little more honest, and it is so pretty!
Oh that WOULD be pretty! I haven't made crepes in an age!

(Anonymous)

Thanks for sharing this Kate, it looks delicious! I have to make some next weekend. Italian sausages are a favorite in our house, but it's gotten too cold to grill them outside. This recipe will be a nice change for our sausages and will look great with the stop-light peppers. I've never tried those, but see them in the store often. Thanks, too, for the history on the vidalia onions. We use those a lot too!
- Luba
You're welcome, Luba! I think you'll like this...very flavorful!
Vidalia onions are on the list of things I want to eat before I die. :)
DO it...if you can. There are several similar kinds out there now--yellow onions marked sweet are pretty much the same.
This sounds lovely! With those ingredients, there's no way it wouldn't be good! :-) And your illustration is delightful.
Ratatouille is one of those dishes that vary from cook to cook, and I have yet to see two identical recipes. However, Provençal cooks usually agree that ratatouille is a vegetarian dish and contains no meat. I usually serve mine with rice and (separately) grilled meat, though.
I hope you won't mind if I share a few notes on how I make mine. I cook the vegetables in order of cooking time, and add them to the barely simmering olive oil (I don't saute them) 1.onions, 2.eggplant, 3.mushrooms 4. peppers 5. zucchini 6. tomatoes. As much garlic as you like, whatever herbs you like (it's great with lots of basil) aree added just before you put the lid on and simmer. If I have green beans or okra lying around, I add those too.
And it IS better the next day! :-)
Oh, I don't mind at all, Muriel! I love hearing different ways to make the same dish, especially from someone who's learned to cook elsewhere (you are from France, aren't I remembering correctly?)

I'd read that it was often vegetarian...but the sweet Italian sausage is what I love most, I think. ;-)

Actually, my version has sliced carrots in it--J's not crazy about them, so his doesn't. I start cooking the carrots first, since they take longest, and yes, I generally do them in the order of what takes longer to cook. Kind of odd since I end up simmering them anyway, I guess...

(Anonymous)

Sweet Greetings from Vidalia

Enjoyed reading your post--especially the bit about our Vidalias. I like the comment about "everyone" knowing what a Vidalia is--and hope your readers appreciate the link to our website as much as I did! You're right--we're available more across the country now, but by state and federal law, they're still grown only in the soil around Vidalia, GA, where my office is located. And, you can only get true Vidalias from late April through around mid-September. Look for us in the stores this spring, and SWEET cooking to you in the mean time! Always great to see we have such fans out across the country :)

W. Brannen
Executive Director
Vidalia Onion Committee
VidaliaOnion.org

Re: Sweet Greetings from Vidalia

I'm glad you found us! We do love the Vidalias, and can't wait till they're available by name--they're the best!

And you're welcome. I linked to your site again yesterday, by the way!