GOD-DESS

Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

August 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall

AN ABUNDANCE OF PRODUCE

I spent my teen years on a farm in southern Missouri. EVERYONE had a garden (if they didn’t, they were run out of the county! Just kidding. Kinda). The running joke in summer was, “Do you need any zucchini?” If you have just ONE zucchini plant in your garden, you do NOT need any zucchini. Chances are, the same goes for tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers … this is the season for an abundance of produce, and this month’s recipes take advantage of that fact.

RATATOUILLE

Ratatouille (such a fun word to say!) comes in dozens of versions, many of which I have made, most of which I have discarded from my repertoire. This particular version relies solely on the innate flavors of the vegetables. It is adapted primarily from a recipe by Raymond Oliver in La Cuisine: Secrets of Modern French Cooking (translated by Nika Standen Hazelton with Jack Van Bibber; 1969; Tudor Publishing Company: New York. 896 pp.); Oliver includes a selection of herbs in his version. You will note that no herbs are added to this version, as I find them entirely unnecessary given the delightful tastes and aromas that emerge when these ingredients have simmered together. Another unique aspect of my version is the use of roasted red peppers … I haven’t seen that elsewhere, but they add an incredible depth of flavor, as does the slight caramelization of the onion and other ingredients.

Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil to cover bottom of skillet. Add the onions, and sauté until translucent, even allowing a bit of caramelization (browning) to occur for additional flavor. Add the garlic, if using, and sauté for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients, and allow mixture to cook over medium heat until zucchini and eggplant are tender and tomatoes have softened, and some of the moisture has evaporated, about 30 minutes. The flavors of this ratatouille are quite delicate and subtle (but often with a big of a “tang”), and are best enjoyed by themselves, in my opinion. Specifically, this ratatouille can be:

1. a side dish, or
2. tossed with pasta (1/2 c of ratatouille per 1/4 lb pasta, cooked), or
3. serve atop crostini or bruschetta, or
4. mixed with cooked rice (1/2 c of ratatouille per 1 c cooked rice)
5. mixed with milk and eggs and baked in a crust for an amazing quiche

Fortunately, this summer sauce freezes excellently for your enjoyment throughout the winter. Often in winter, you want a heartier, more substantial (and I’ll just say it: meatier!) meal, so you can follow any of the applications for my multipurpose ragout, using the ratatouille instead (for reminders, please visit http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesSeptember03.html ). Plus, here are some additional serving ideas:

Ratatouille Sauce for Pan-Seared, Grilled or Poached Fish: Place a couple of spoonfuls of the ratatouille on the plate, and place the fish on top of it for a truly spectacular presentation, or just drape the ratatouille on top of the fish.

Ratatouille Sauce for Pan-Fried, Grilled, Poached or Roasted Chicken (or other poultry): Serve as suggested for the fish. A particularly impressive presentation is to thinly slice chicken, turkey or duck breast in a fan over a bed of the ratatouille. Can you say “five star”? Although the ratatouille will lose some of its distinctive character, you can use it to braise pan-seared poultry by adding equal amounts of wine, water or stock to the ratatouille, placing the poultry in the liquid over low to medium heat, cover, and cook on the stove or in the oven for 30 minutes to an hour (depending on the size of the pieces of poultry), and use the braising liquid as a sauce for the poultry and pasta or rice (or roast some potatoes while you are braising the poultry in the oven, and serve the loosened ratatouille alongside the roasted potatoes).

Ratatouille Sauce for Beef, Pork or Lamb: Pan sear the meat, grill the meat, roast the meat, sauté the meat, do whatever you want with the meat, but then sauce it with the ratatouille (and serve it with a nice peppery zinfandel).

Ratatouille and Sausage: One might say that this is a version of Italian sausage and peppers, but it’s much more complex. Grill or pan fry your favorite sausage whole, or crumble and sauté it, or cook it and cut it into pieces the size and shape of your choice (this is just one more example of why my recipes are so flexible). If pan-fried or sautéed, drain off and discard any excess fat, and keep the sausage in the pan over medium heat; add the ratatouille and stir to deglaze. Allow the ratatouille and sausages to simmer for about 15 minutes so that their flavors mingle. Serve as a main course, a stew, a pasta sauce, a topping for rice, or something to make your bruschetta truly special (and popular among guests!).

Pseudo-Gazpacho: for each serving of gazpacho, use 1 c ratatouille, ½ c finely diced cucumber (no seeds; peeling is optional, but I prefer to leave the peel on my cukes), ½ t salt, 1 T red wine or balsamic vinegar, ¼ to ½ c water (straight or mixed with sparkling wine, white wine or red wine; the wine will NOT be cooked at all, so all of the alcohol will remain). Consider serving this chunky (yes, gazpacho IS chunky) with some rustic bread, bruschetta, crostini or other toasts rubbed with garlic.

MORE TOMATO SALADS AND SAUCES

Last summer I presented some super simple yet super delicious tomato salads that could also double as pasta sauces or bruschetta toppings (http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesAugust03.html ). This summer I have continued experimenting, and have been shifting my culinary paradigm to bring you some new refreshing combinations for all of those tomatoes.

The upshot of this paradigm shift is that I am serving my tomatoes this year with arugula, and I am using arugula as an herb like fresh basil or mint, rather than as a leafy green. Black pepper has a natural affinity for the sweetness of ripe, seasonal tomatoes (especially when combined with some salt and some vinegar or lemon juice … wow!). So, imagine what happens when you enhance the pepperiness and bitterness of the black pepper with the pepperiness and bitterness of the arugula? Heaven!

To make this paradigm shift work for you, just try any of the tomato recipes at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesAugust03.html and substitute about twice as much arugula for the amount of mint (or use half mint and half arugula, or use 1/3 each of mint, basil and arugula, or just half basil and half arugula). Your choice of tomatoes is another critical factor, and I particularly enjoy that narrow window of opportunity for using local organic heirloom tomato varieties. If you care about 1) flavor, 2) beauty, 3) helping the earth and 4) helping the local economy, I urge you to also start sampling the dozens of local heirloom tomato varieties! Once again, these different variables yield thousands of applications all for your tasting pleasure! For a few hundred more recipes, try adding arugula to any of the ratatouille preparations and applications above; you’ll be glad you did!

If you need any more convincing, arugula has about 3 whole calories per half cup serving. It is a good source of dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, zinc and copper. Arugula is a member of the Brassicaceae (crucifers, along with broccoli and cabbage and kale), so we can only guess at the antioxidant properties (which would work well with the antioxidant properties of the lycopene in the tomatoes).

For years I have substituted arugula for lettuce on various sandwiches, and have enjoyed that, especially when there were tomatoes on those sandwiches, but only recently have I considered using arugula as an herb (botanically, of course it is, but culinarily, it wasn’t so obvious, at least to me). For those of you who beat me to this interpretation, please write to let me know of your accomplishments.

Visit the Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® archives (particularly those from warmer months) for more recipes to help you take advantage of the Abundance of Produce we are (fortunately) faced with. As always, all types of feedback are welcome at 773.508.9208 or email me. Thanks, and Happy Producing!

 

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