Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Honey, What's an Eleven Letter Word For Vegetable Stew?

Some things are a classic for a reason: Creme Brulee, Caesar Salad, Carrot-Ginger Soup (Potage Crecy), Coquille-St.-Jacques to barely scratch the surface. Old recipes continue to enthrall taste buds because they are often so simple, so easy, so practical. For the professional kitchen, some staples continue to be staples because they are either in demand, or cheap to make, or able to utilize leftovers or all the above. Minestrone soup for example utilizes leftover pasta, leftover cooked beans, a few vegetables and some watered down tomato sauce. Make a batch for nothing and all of a sudden you're making dollars from pennies.

I really enjoy making Ratatouille because it is so simple, so cheap and so delicious (not because there's a Pixar Film with the same title). What makes Ratatouille so easy is that it is braised (remember that word?) in it's own juices rather than having a liquid added to it. Some cooks may call this a Confit: something that is cooked in it's own juices. However, strictly speaking, a Confit is something that is cooked with either acid (for vegetables), alcohol and sugar (for fruit, like a Confiture) or fat (for poultry, especially duck).

Not that this is vital information, but knowing the technique is useful and knowing allows you to build on your gastronomic repertoire. My style of cooking is simple: taking classical cuisine and throwing a modern twist to make it fresh. Rustic elegance.


1 Green Zucchini, innards removed, cut in small cubes
1 Yellow Zucchini, innards removed, cut into small cubes
Half an Eggplant, cut into small cubes
1 Large Red Onion, fine dice
1 Red Bell Pepper, small cubes
1 Green Bell Pepper, small cubes
2 Cloves of Garlic
3 Tomatoes, roughly cut
1 Bunch of Basil, chiffonade
1 Bunch of Thyme, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large stock style pot, on medium heat, sweat onions in some olive oil. Add peppers and garlic; cook until vibrant. Add eggplant and zucchinis and stir until they decrease in size by one third. Add tomatoes and cover, stirring occasionally. Let cook for approximately 15 minutes. Add herbs and seasonings. Keep on low heat, covered until served.

Serves 6.

A Humble Chef's tip: Try soaking the cubed eggplant in a salt water solution for about 10 minutes before cooking. When draining, notice how dark the water is. The salt removes the bitter flavour and prevents the eggplant from going black.

Variation: If you have time, you can use the Ratatouille as a filling in Phyllo or Puff Pastry. Roll out the dough and drain the vegetables. Wrap it up and bake to directions. The leftover liquid can be reduced and thickened with a syrup or a puree of some sort and used as a sauce for the strudel.

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