Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I never saw the movie. You know, the one with the rat. Now, I'm a fan of Pixar, but I just wasn't attracted to the story. Rat wants to be a cook. Right. I did, however, find joy in thinking about all of those children who, when they got home, begged their parents to make Ratatouille. Only to find out that it is a stew made entirely of vegetables.
As a kid, I never liked veggies. The problem with them was that they were either canned or frozen. And they tasted exactly the same. In Mexican Cuisine, vegetables are something that usually accompany a dish of carne asada and frijoles. And they are usually the garden variety canned kind. Aside from theses, you have Chayote, Jicama, and Nopalitos. Jicama is actually good, and it's been years since I've had a Chayote, but I remember them being not so good at the time, but with a flavor that I would now enjoy. Nopalitos, on the other hand, are made out of a flat cactus and are, and always will be, vile.
It really wasn't until college that I discovered different vegetables. It wasn't that we didn't have other-than-canned growing up. We did, but we always prepared them the exact same way. I never really paid much attention to them until this year, though, somehow glossing over them in my bread-and-cheese vegetarianism.
So this year, we've been cooking more and more vegetables. My younger self would be shocked to read this, but vegetables are tasty. Even more so when mixed together and cooked.
Now, before the film came out I had heard of Ratatouille. Don't get me wrong. I knew about it, I just didn't know what it was. I had once had cold Ratatouille with even colder Couscous, and my dislike for couscous somehow automatically extended onto the vegetable stew.
However, it took a trip to Paris and a cookbook to really rediscover Ratatouille. The trip inspired an interest in French cuisine. Oh, the food. The food was so good.
The cookbook is Ginette Mathiot's Je sais cuisiner in the English translation: I know how to cook. I heard about it from Clotilde over at Chocolate and Zucchini. The book is amazing, the illustrations beautiful and the pictures, though they are too few, delicious. I'm actually working my way through it as bedside reading. Although I don't eat fish, I'm currently struggling through that section. I'm on Trout, if you want to follow along.
So, the book follows a simple does it approach. The ingredients are mentioned, and then the procedure is explained in a simple paragraph. In a way, it dispenses with precise cooking techniques, assuming some familiarity with the kitchen. On the other hand, it also just sort of explains what to do in the most simple terms so that anyone, even anyone that has never stepped in a kitchen, would be able to follow along. Okay, maybe that last part is a half truth, but the book takes a simple and direct approach. Trust me, you can make these dishes.
Basically, because Ratatouille is just a vegetable stew, you just slice all the vegetables and throw them into the pot. You don't even need to blanch the tomatoes!
I sliced everything and packed it into the largest normal pot we have. I do have bigger pots, one of which holds 20 quarts, but that is used exclusively for brewing beer.
Add in about 150 mL of water so that the veggies don't stick to the bottom. The odd thing here is that I found an error in the cookbook. 500mL does not equal a quarter pint. Though finding one mistake in a cookbook of 976 pages is quite the needle in a haystack. But have no fear, I've read the first 250 pages and there seems to be no other errors.
After half an hour of covered simmering, the vegetables were really soft, and, thank goodness, definitely fit in the pot.
Not that it has gone awry or anything, but, after an hour, I left it uncovered in order to get rid of some of the water, and simmered for a total of two hours before I called it "done".
I served the stew the next day for dinner during Tatort. I had some Pain a l'Ancienne dough on hand. Although this bread is not officially part of the Bread Baker's Apprentice, it is the bread I make the most. You basically knead it with cold water, refrigerate it for a few days, take it out, let it sit for two hours, and then bake it. The oven spring is fantastic, as you can tell by the ears on my very deep slashes.
The bread even exploded out of the side. I didn't bother with the steam pan, so the crust set before the inside was done, and the bread- well- it has to go somewhere.
No, this isn't the same picture as above, this is from the following day.
I couldn't get a good shot of this, but this is a Saison that I brewed two years ago. Now, to pre-answer any questions I know are burning- No, the beer was not bad. Though it had mellowed with age, the beer is 9% ABV and bottle fermented. That means that the alcohol and the yeast preserve it. If it had more hops, it would definitely keep, but the hop flavor would diminish with age. I do have to be honest, though. The beer had not improved with regard to flavor. It had mellowed out a bit too much. The beer was modelled after Saison Dupont, which is one of my favorite beers of all time, though I can't get it in Germany. Oddly enough, my second favorite is Hennepin Ale from Ommegang brewery. I also can't get it over here. I also can't get my third favorite, Matilda Ale from Goose Island brewery. I can, however, get my fourth favorite, Orval, which oddly enough, is the beer after which Matilda is modelled.
I sliced the bread and poured my beer. It was golden and crystal clear, as in the opening shot.
We sat down at the table and chowed down.
I must say that I had the left-overs for lunch two days that following week, and each time it was even more delicious.
Ratatouille Provençale from I Know How To Cook (UK edition):
1 garlic clove (but don't go beyond two!)
750g Sweet Peppers, either Red or Orange
125mL (Delicious) Water
75ml Olive Oil (aka 5Tbsp)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Slice all the veggies about a centimeter thick. Put them in a heavy pan, pour the 75ml oil over all of it, add salt and pepper and add 125mL water. Cover and simmer for an hour until everything comes together. Stir and simmer uncovered for an additional hour. Tastes delicious hot, nice cool, and best just a tad hotter than lukewarm.