Recipes from France

Need I say anything about this?  I knew I was going to eat well in France.  I mean, seriously, the word "cuisine" is a French word.  There was no doubt that everything I ate would be a mouth-watering experience.  Well, that is if I steered myself away from frog legs and snails.  And, I certainly planned to do that minimal amount of steering.

Okay, you probably saw the movie and know that even a rat can cook ratatouille.  But, do you really know what goes into that dish?  I didn't.  And, I also saw the movie.

I had ratatouille almost as soon as I arrived in France.  I knew right off that this was the recipe I had to get.  I did find it in Magalie's cookbook.  However, it was all in French.  When Magalie told me about preparations, the directions included separately cooking each vegetable.  I don't cook that way.  And then, I looked to the internet for suggestions. The first recipe I saw called for "blanching" the tomatoes.  Well, I learned a new word, but I still wasn't inspired to try cutting an "X" on the bottoms of the tomatoes, boiling and then pealing them.  Too much work.

Fortunately, very fortunately, I found a recipe that gives me a taste of France with a convenience level that I can handle.  Vive la France!                                             

Enjoyed by Rats and Humans across France

  2 Tbs olive oil   2 zucchini, sliced
  3 cloves minced garlic   2 cups sliced, fresh mushrooms
  2 tsp dried parsley   1 large onion, sliced into rings
  1 eggplant, diced   2 potatoes, sliced
  a pinch or two of salt   1 red bell pepper, sliced
  1 cup Parmesan cheese   2 large tomatoes, chopped

While your oven is preheating to 350 degrees F (or 175 degrees C), oil the bottom and sides of your casserole dish with a tablespoon of olive oil.  The recipe I found called for a 1 ½ quart dish, but you may want to go just a little larger.  I added potatoes to the list because that is how my host made her ratatouille.  And, since potatoes are my favorite food, I am not about to leave them out.

You still have another tablespoon of olive oil.  Place it in a frying pan and bring it to heat over a medium setting.  Get ready for some sauté time.  Lightly brown the garlic before mixing in the parsley and eggplant.  Sauté the eggplant until it is soft, which will hopefully be about ten minutes.  Next, season the mixture to taste.

Your ratatouille is going to be baked in layers, kind of like lasagna.  So, when your eggplant mixture is ready, evenly spread it across the bottom of your casserole dish and sprinkle it with a pinch or two of salt.  You separate this layer of the ratatouille from the next layer with a few tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  The next layer is your zucchini.  Once again, lightly salt it and add some more cheese on top.  Continue working in layers with the onion, mushrooms, bell pepper and tomatoes.  Top each layer with another sprinkle of salt, and, of course, cheese please.

Bake it for 45 minutes. 

My French friends were horrified by this ratatouille recipe. First of all, you don't put mushrooms in the dish.  They talked about simmering the mixture for hours.  And, it really wouldn’t taste good until the second day.  I think they might have liked the idea of a crock pot, but I never saw one in France.  As for me, I'm very pleased with the recipe.  You can serve the dish hot, warm, and even cold.  I love . . er, je t'aime the dish any way you want to give it to me.

But, no matter how satisfied I am with ease and convenience, my French friends remained horrified. So, I promised to include a real, correct, and proper French way to make ratatouille. I, however, will always stick with ease and convenience in the kitchen.

Magalie's version of a French Favorite

  2 or 3 red peppers 2 zucchini, sliced
  1 eggplant, diced a couple of garlic cloves
  1 large onion 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  olive oil some sugar
  2 potatoes, sliced salt and pepper to taste

Place the red peppers in the oven and bake them. Real cooks would know how long to do this. I have no idea. But, when they are cooked, you should be able to remove the outer skins and the insides as well. Then, cut the peppers into long, thin strips. If you want eggs plant (which I always do), wrap it in foil and toss it in the oven too. Baking the eggplant first makes it easier to digest as well as easier to slice into several pieces.

Chop your onions and fry them with olive oil in a pressure cooker. This is where I start to panic a bit. I don't own a pressure cooker. I don't know anyone who owns a pressure cooker. But, all hope is not gone. The recipe is still do-able.

If you own a pressure cooker, you already know what you're doing. The rest of us can fry up the onions in a skillet. Then, toss your fried onions in a crock pot. I own one of them. I've never used it, but I own one of them. Add the peppers, potatoes, eggplant, courgettes (Hey, it's a French recipe so I used the French word. Shhh . . . they are really zucchini.), garlic, tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper.

Cook it a long, long, long time. The longer you cook it, the better. You don't want bitter ratatouille. Yep, let it simmer for ages. I'm told that it's always better to eat it the second day. Let the stuff cook!

Now, if by chance a dish with eggplant and tomatoes doesn't make you scream, "Oh, la! la!" and book a trip to France, there is always dessert.  And le petit chef, Tom, prepared a chocolate, pear and yoghurt cake that achieved both of my goals in the kitchen.  It was easy and delicious. 

Copyright 2011 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.