It took a week long to write this post. Probably because it took a whole week to try and recall what exactly happened.
St. Patrick’s day.
I can’t recall this picture at all
My friend Tiffany invited me to a potluck at her house with a small intimate group of friends. What was interesting about this party was that she and my other friend were vegans so the dishes we had to prepare had to be sans meat.
In my usual tradition of procrastination, I put off figuring out what to make until a couple of days later. What could I possibly make that would satisfy the refined palate of two herbivores, let alone the bellies of 4 other people?
Till it dawned on me to try the one dish I obsessed about years ago after watching a film where it was used as a star dish to impress a shrewd critic. I forgot the name, but ratatouille has always been a favourite dish of mine.
I first tried it at two different restaurants in Calgary. Both were high end French restaurants but prepared each dish differently. It is after all a peasant dish meant to cook everything in the fridge or harvest basket. But one restaurant elegantly served large slices of soft vegetables under a blanket of pasta, while another serves a rustic presentation.
When I did my research for a particular recipe, I began with Julia Child’s classic ratatouille. But when I passed by my fridge I remembered my favourite french restaurant gave me a postcard with a recipe for ratatouille provencal.
Without complicating things, ratatouille is simply a vegetable stew that doesn’t have to rely on strick measurements or bound to exact ingredients.
On a thursday night I ran over to Superstore and gathered the following ingredients:
3 Japanese eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 large sweet onion (about 1/2 pound)
1 garlic bulb and 3 roasted in the oven
3 zuchinnis (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 sweet bell peppers (about 3/4 pounds)
2 cans of diced tomatoes (more traditional calls for blanched and seeded tomatoes, but technology and time limit won this time)
5-6 tablespoons parsley
2-3 tablespoons of thyme
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Older recipes call for ways to soak eggplant slices in salt to draw out bitter juices. But smaller and medium sized eggplants now have a more sweeter taste to them so I decided not to use it.
First chop the eggplant and zucchini into round medallions. Next chop the onions and sweet bell peppers into round thin slices. Mince a whole bulb of garlic. Mince the parsley and thyme and set aside.
For some reason I felt like roasting some garlic and since I grab garlic by the handful at the supermarket, I threw 3 half sliced bulbs in the oven to roast with a bit of olive oil drizzled on the top. When they came out I roughly minced them and set them aside. Yep, I love garlic.
One of the most easiest prep work I’ve done.
With a fry pan, lightly brown the eggplant and zucchini medallions in olive oil. Set aside.
With lowered heat, cook the onions and bell peppers for roughly 10 minutes. Add more oil if necessary and stir in the garlic. Saute, making minor adjustments with salt and pepper according to taste.
Pour canned tomatoes into the onion/pepper/garlic mixture.I discarded half the liquid from the can prior. Add in thyme. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
In a large oven-friendly casserole, assemble layers of sauteed eggplant and zucchini, tomato mixture, sprinkled parsley, and strips of roasted garlic. Do this until the whole casserole is full.
Cover the casserole tightly and bake in 250 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes. Take it out and partially remoisten the top of the casserole with juices form the bottom and sides. Cover again and bake in 300 degrees for 40 minutes.
When I finished cooking this is what it looked like.
In honesty I wish I had time to cook the dish more and cooked it on the stove rather than baked it. In the end the layers didn’t make much of a differences and mixing the vegetables all together would have just as a pleasant presentation.
When we arrived at my Tiffany’s place I was eager to dive into my ratatouille. Instead I dove head first into a bottle of Jameisons whisky and ginger beer. By the time I got around to eating my ratatouille, I was busy yapping away rather than my usual routine of making sure my senses were cleared. But from what I could remember the veggies came through quite well and the tomatoes brought out the sweetness. The roasted garlic didn’t stand out on it’s own and got lost in the dish but the garlic did exist in the dish.
I never got around to asking my friends if they enjoyed the dish. I imagined they did since there was very little left in the large amount of food I brought. Then again the beauty of a potluck is that no matter what, everyone’s dishes has to be complimented! I’m sure I drunkenly flashed a smug expression.
Back to the haze. i remember bits and pieces. No matter how good the ratatouille was and how much I ate of it, it didn’t hold back the rowdy shots of Jameisons. I think there was karaoke. Something about Karaoke. Headlocks. Dry heaving. And me making complaints to my bathroom.
The very last picture on my phone at the end of the night:
“Dude this guy smells like whisky”