Nana was my grandmother. When I was a little girl, I would spend long happy weekends at her house. She always had a stack of books for me to read–young reader mysteries, as I recall. Sometimes she would take me to the tiny beauty shop improbably […]
Month: January 2018
Virginia Woolf said of soup: ” Soup is cuisine’s kindest course.” That is certainly the way I feel about soup. I confess that I enjoy making soup often and find comfort in eating it. I almost always begin a dinner party–even a casual one– with […]
Today’s plat du jour on my table is ratatouille, a classic French vegetable stew that is a specialty of cooks in Provence and Nice. Apparently, a lot of other Mediterranean countries claim some version of this dish, too, so you may have encountered ratatouille under a different name. In Italy it is caponata. In Spain, it is called pisto. It gets its most colorful name, though, in Turkey where it is cooked as a stuffing for an eggplant and is called imam baildi– literally, the imam fainted. Who wouldn’t want to cook (and taste) a dish with that great name?
There are lots of theories about the meaning and origin of the French name for this dish. Rata seems to have been a local term for a chunky stew and touiller is a French word for stirring things up. Somewhere along the way the “r” was dropped. Several sources I’ve read claim that the original ratatouille, given its origin as a peasant food, should actually be translated as “motley stew.” (That one made me laugh, and, in a flight of whimsy, I briefly wondered if the heavy metal band Motely Crue was secretly a group of gourmands who were cool enough to have crafted their name as a clever pun for the Provincial dish? Nah! Didn’t happen.The boys-behaving-badly rock band was never accused of being classy. Ever. I suspect their favorite food group was Lowenbrau.)
Traditionally, ratatouille is served as a side dish with a meat course and/or with rice or couscous. Julia Child, who was famous for her ratatouille, served it alone. I served mine with Israeli couscous from Trader Joe’s. (Israeli couscous is a variation on regular couscous. It is made from wheat, is larger than traditional couscous, and is toasted.)
There are many other ways to serve ratatouille. For example, ratatouille is so popular in Provence that it has fast food versions served on baguettes, pizzas and local flatbreads called fougasses. (A fougasse is often studded with olives, cheese, and garlic. How good does that sound?) Sometimes, ratatouille is served topped with a poached or fried egg to boost the dish’s protein, although the chickpeas in the dish are also a good source of protein. You may want to try one of these variations with your leftovers. This recipe makes a lot of ratatouille!
Whatever its origins, ratatouille is a great dish and one that lets a pastiche of fresh vegetables like eggplants, zucchini, onions, peppers, tomatoes and garlic shine. Here is the recipe. It is easy and nobody at your table will call it a motley stew.
- 1 pound eggplant (peeled or unpeeled and cut into large chunks)
- 3/4 pound zucchini (cut into large chunks)
- 1 pound plum tomatoes (cored and chopped)
- 1 onion (sliced)
- 2 yellow bell peppers (cored, seeded and sliced)
- 1 finnel bulb (about 1 pound) (trimmed and cut into large chunks) Don't leave out the fennel.
- 5 garlic cloves (halved)
- 1 t. salt (to taste)
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/4 C. olive oil
- 3 C. canned or cooked chickpeas (drained)
- 1 T. chopped fresh thyme
- 1 T. chopped fresh parsley (or more)
- Oil-cured Kalamata olives for garnish
- Grated gruyere cheese for garnish
- A drizzle of your best extra-virgin olive oil
- A few chopped cherry tomatoes for garnish
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Prepare your vegetables, mix them together and spread them on a large cooking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the vegetables and toss to coat the vegetables with the olive oil.
- Roast the vegetables in your oven until they are beginning to brown and are tender. The tomatoes should be releasing their water as the dish cooks to create a bit of sauce. This will take about 30 to 40 minutes and you will want to stir the vegetable mixture several times during the cooking.
- Take the tray of vegetables from the oven and mix in the chickpeas. Return the vegetables to the oven and cook for 5 to 10 minutes more.
- Stir in the herbs. Adjust salt and pepper seasonings. Serve hot or warm (or cold) garnished with shredded gruyere, chopped cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives and a just-before-serving drizzle of the best extra-virgin olive oil you have in your kitchen..
Don't even think about leaving out the fennel. It is wonderful in this dish and is available in most supermarkets.
Here is a link to the original dish from which the recipe above was adapted: Mark Bittman’s Ratatouille.
This tart is so super rich I suspect it got a big tax cut! (OK. I am bitter.) It’s easy, too! And, it makes a pretty impressive presentation. (Who among your guests needs to know that it was a cinch to make?) The richness […]
Quick! Hand me a jar of my neighbor Sarah’s etherial tangerine marmalade. I have two warm-from-the-oven loaves of sourdough bread sitting on my kitchen counter. Warm sourdough bread. Bitter-ish marmalade. It doesn’t get better than that. As you may know if you regularly read […]
This healthy Middle Eastern soup is wonderful.
It’s spicy–flavored with a robust harissa paste. It’s full of flavorful and protein-rich Rancho Gordo Marcella white beans. It’s filled with good-for-you greens.
It’s just what you need to warm your soul–whether you are caught in one of the epic snow storms that is battering America’s east coast or are just staring down the rain forecast (finally!) here in Southern California.
This recipe for Tomato and Bean Soup with Harissa and Honey is adapted from one that appears in Greg and Lucy Malouf’s New Feast cookbook, a compendium of one hundred thirty Middle Eastern vegetarian recipes that I just added to my cookbook collection. The cookbook is the seventh in an acclaimed series of Middle Eastern cookbooks by the Maloufs and the first of their cookbooks to be totally vegetarian. Greg Malouf, whose background is Lebanese, is a chef who has worked at renowned restaurants in England, Australia, and the Middle East. Lucy Malouf is a former financial analyst and caterer(quite a career combination, woudn’t you say?) and Malouf’s former wife. Their cookbooks span the gamut of Middle Eastern cuisines including Persian, Turkish, Lebanese, Syrian, Saudi and Moroccan.
This soup is meant to be served with chopped hard-boiled eggs and a sprinkling of capers but can also be topped with a soft-boiled egg or just sprinkled with chopped cilantro and grated Asiago. The broth is spicy hot, flavored with harissa paste. (I got my harissa at Trader Joe’s. The TJ harissa is imported from Tunisia.)
I don’t have a lot of experience cooking with harissa but found myself particularly enjoying the flavor the paste gave the soup broth. Harissa, for the uninitiated, is a fiery paste fashioned from peppers, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, red chillies, garlic and olive oil that is ubiquitous in Middle Eastern cuisine, particularly Tunisian cuisine. Interestingly, harissa is one more bit of evidence of history’s extraordinary Columbian Exchange–the transfer of foods that resulted from Columbus’ exploration of the New World. In Tunisia’s case, New World hot peppers were probably introduced as a part of the Spanish occupation of Tunisia in the 16th century.
In this recipe, the hotness of the harissa is tempered by the addition of honey. The proportion of harissa to honey is up to you!
I’ve got my eyes on other delicious-sounding recipes from the Malouf’s beautiful cookbook, particularly a recipe for baby carrot tagine with yoghurt and honeyed pine nuts and a recipe for saffron rice pudding with apricots. My good friend Debbie Parrett gave me a beautiful orangey-red clay tagine for Christmas and I’m thinking it is perfect for the baby carrot dish. I’m sure I’ll be posting more Malouf recipes in the near future.
You can purchase the Malouf’s cookbook through Amazon: Greg and Lucy Malouf’s New Feast.
Here is my adaptation of the Malouf Tomato and Bean Soup recipe. Pay attention to the amount of harissa you add to your soup. The soup can be as fiery or as mild as you want it to be. I’m a fan of hotly-spiced dishes but I found myself dialing back the 3 t. of harissa called for in this recipe. I did find that the heat from the harissa mellowed on the second and third day after making the soup. I always enjoy my soups more on the second or third day after making them. The flavors have time to marry and mature.
I hope you enjoy this soup as much as I did. It is everything I want a soup to be. I had a bowl for breakfast this morning. Just excellent!
- 2 oz. olive oil
- 1 leek (well-washed and finely-chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
- 1 t. ground cumin
- 1-2 t. good-quality harissa paste (the original recipe called for 3 t. Be careful here!)
- 1-2 t. honey (or more, to your taste)
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 pound of Rancho Gordo Marcella beans or other dried cannelini beans
- 14 oz. chopped Italian tomatoes
- 24 oz. vegetable stock (or more)
- 1/2 t. sea salt
- 1/4 t. freshly-ground black pepper
- 2 1/2 oz. chard leaves (stems removed)--about two big handfuls
- 2 cold hard-boiled eggs (coarsely grated)
- extra-virgin olive oil to serve
- 2 T. shredded cilantro to garnish
- Grated cheese (Asiago or Parmesan) to garnish
- 1-2 T. salted baby capers (well-rinsed) (optional--I omitted them)
- Soak your dried beans overnight and then cook them covered in water until they are al dente. (I used my Instant Pot.)
- Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and sauté leek over low heat for 8-10 minutes. When cooked, the leek should be soft and translucent. Add the garlic, cumin, harissa, honey and thyme to the pot and cook until the leeks are well-coated with all the ingredients and the spices are aromatic. This will take only a few minutes.
- Add the cooked beans, tomatoes, vegetable stock, salt and pepper to the pot, stir to combine and bring mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the soup for about 15 minutes. Add more vegetable broth to get the right consistency for your soup and to moderate the heat of the harissa.
- While the soup is simmering, shred the chad leaves. Add the shreds of chard leaves to the soup pot and simmer for another 5-8 minutes until the chard is wilted.
- To serve, ladle soup into large soup bowls and garnish with eggs, chopped cilantro, and a drizzle of the best olive oil you have in your kitchen.
- Alternatively, put a slice of grilled sourdough bread in the bottom of a large soup bowl and ladle the soup over the bread and then garnish.