When a waitperson comes over to my table and explains that they “will be serving the Halibut tonight over a bed of ratatouille and a side of herbed Farro pilaf” I know exactly what I won’t be ordering. That!
Ratatouille, in its conventional tomato sauce-y format, is (to me at least) Chef Boyardee at its worst – a slippery mess of overly, chunky yuck. It’s the place where vegetables and herbs go when they die. An old jar or oregano that needs to be used up? Toss it in! Some sorry looking dimpled eggplant? Sure – it’s not getting any better with age! Oh, and the eggplant is never cooked enough, which is a Capital Cooking Crime (C.C.C) in my book.
I’m sorry, waitperson, just give me the herbed Farro pilaf and keep your stinky, old halibut and…stuff.
Many moons ago I had a boyfriend who was, surprise, surprise, a chef*. He was very handsome and tanned exceedingly well, but I think the thing I liked about him most was his version of ratatouille (okay, that’s not exactly fair, but it makes for a more dramatic build-up).
My chef’s version was nothing like the dead-vegetable ratatouille I was used to. Chef’s ratatouille was impeccably fresh, finely minced and his vegetables were mis en placed in many bowls so that each one could be cooked for the appropriate amount of time. Devoid of tomato sauce, it was more like a bright sauté than a soupy mess.
And it did make a beautiful bed for something else to rest on. Lamb shank Osso Bucco often made the plate.
*It is my theory that everyone should date a chef (or marry one) at least once in their lives. Its invaluable for learning knife-skills and other food-related knowledge. Then I think hairdresser, clothing designer and masseur (or masseuse) for obvious reasons. I’m just sayin’.
Chef’s Version of Ratatouille is perfect for an overflowing late summer garden or a gorgeous trip to the farmer’s market. This can be served on one big plate, ‘family style’, or as Chef did, plated out individually along with the rest of the meal-stuffs.
CHEF’S VERSION OF RATATOUILLE
3/4 cup eggplant, finely diced (I like the peel so I leave it on)
3/4 cup zucchini, finely diced
1/2 cup peppers, finely diced (I like to mix colors and a bit of heat in, if available)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes sliced in half (optional)
1/4 cup onions, finely diced or sliced
1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
1/8 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp of mixed fresh herbs finely chopped (basil, thyme, oregano etc)
a few squash blossoms, if you have them, are pretty to toss about.
1/4 cup olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper salt to taste
a chunk of Parmesan cheese for grating (optional)
1. Gather each thing (aka mis en place) in it’s own bowl like a real live chef.
2. Sauté the diced eggplant in 1/3 of the olive oil on low to medium heat until it’s soft and lightly browned (about 5-7 minutes depending on how finely diced it is). Sometimes eggplant will need a little extra olive oil or a pinch of salt to ‘coax’ it to cook. Put the finished eggplant back in the bowl from which it came.
3. Add the next 1/3 of the olive oil to the pan (there’s no need to clean the pan unless you burned something) and sauté the zucchini and peppers at the same time on low to medium heat until they’re light browned but not ‘killed’ (about 3-5 minutes depending on how finely diced it is). Put the finished stuff back into one of the bowls.
4. Add the last of the olive oil, turn down the heat to low and sauté the garlic and onions until barely translucent (about 2-5 minutes depending on how fined sliced and diced).
5. Re-add the cooked eggplant, the zucchini and the peppers to the pan. Add the herbs (not the parsley) and the cherry tomatoes if using. Sauté for 3-5 minutes or when all the vegetables are equally done but not overly mushy. If you have a few squash blossoms, tear them up and add at the very end.
6. Put the vegetables on a pretty plate and add a few grinds of pepper and sea salt. Toss the chopped parsley jauntily over the whole thing. Take the chunk of Parmesan to the table for people to grate.
Admirable chef’s trick – wash all the dishes and wipe down the counter as you go. While we at The Muddy Kitchen often aspire to this type of professional cleanliness, we often fall short of perfection.
Take your boots off before you come in here!