Browsing Tag

appetizer

Ratatouille

There is a window of time each year where the stars align, the warm winds blow during the day (and maybe could do a better job of cooling at night) but hey it’s worth it, because the queen of all summer dishes has arrived…ratatouille.

The summer staple is smooth and elegant, has a complex texture, bright and bold flavors, and can be enjoyed in oh so many ways. Ratatouille originated in Nice, France where poor farmers cooked this simple vegetable stew to put to use vegetables available to them in the summer months.

This is also where the dried herb blend, herbs de Provence comes in. There are many variations to this regionally inspired spice blend, but the key ingredients are:
summer savory
thyme
basil
marjoram
lavender
parsley
oregano
tarragon
fennel seed and
mint.

This is optional, but adds a third dimension to the dish. I kind of think of it as without herbs de Provence you are sitting in a beautiful restaurant enjoying a simple and delicious summer lunch. When you add herbs de Provence to ratatouille, it’s like the window next to your table is pushed open and a balmy summer breeze enters the room. All of a sudden you notice the garden outside, you can smell the fresh herbs and onions growing just a stones throw away, the stalks of purple lavender sway back and forth and you relax back into your chair and reach for your wine, THAT’S the (totally optional of course) magic of this herb combination.

This recipe calls for the vegetables to be cut into a 1/2 inch dice. You can easily change this to 1 or even 2 inch. This is a rustic dish so it is not as important how big or small the pieces are, but rather that all the pieces are roughly the same size so they cook evenly.

Ingredients
4 T. Olive oil
1 T. Herbs de Provence
Pinch of dried chili flakes (optional)
1 large red onion, 1/2 in. dice
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 T. Tomato paste
1 medium eggplant, 1/2 in. dice
2 red bell peppers, 1/2 in. dice
2 medium zucchini, 1/2 in. dice
3 ripe medium tomatoes, 1/2 in. dice (or can of whole tomatoes, crushed)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. Fresh basil leaves, sliced or torn

Method
1.) preheat oven to 400.
2.) heat oil in a Dutch oven style heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.
3.) add herbs de Provence, dried chili flake and cook for a minute or two.
4.) add onion and garlic and cook for about five minutes stirring frequently.
5.) add tomato paste and cook another minute.
6.) add eggplant, red bell pepper, zucchini and tomatoes to pot and stir everything together.
7.) transfer pot to oven and cook for about one hour.
8.) add fresh basil before serving.
9.) enjoy hot or cold!

Components
-serve over pasta or quinoa
-enjoy warm on its own
-serve over squash or sweet potatoes
-serve cold on sandwiches
-serve on toasted bread
-serve over polenta/grits

Gougères: The many delights of pâte à choux, part 1

There are plenty of complex and difficult pastry recipes and techniques out there. Lucky for us, pâte à choux dough isn’t one of them.  The first time I made this dough was in culinary school. I was a nervous cook back then (2003), having only cooked at home from the pages of magazines and from tv shows when I managed to scribble down the ingredients in a notebook.

At school, I expected the actual cooking to be the hard part. But I had to first get past the culinary vocabulary before I could get to the actual task at hand. My first instructor, a stern Swiss Chef would yell things like

“Class: You have one hour. Gather a rondeau, two third pans, one half hotel pan, one bain marie, glacés à brun a six pan of cippolinis, and I want 100 each perfectly tourned potatoes and carrots. I’m going to check your stations in ten minutes. Why are you staring at me…GO!”

HA HA HA. I can totally picture my face. I was probably frantically trying to remember what a rondeau was and didn’t even hear the rest. Don’t feel too bad for me. This is what I get for going to culinary school before working in an actual restaurant.

So when we learned to make pâte à choux it was a wonderful moment of relief. When making a batch, the dough naturally breaks and then comes back together with the addition of each egg. So in the span of a couple of minutes (or four eggs), something broken comes together four times. In the midst of so much newness, it was an incredibly satisfying recipe to learn. It would take years for me to learn the incredible range of this dough, but at the time it was perfect in its simplicity.

I mean, how often do you get to watch something break and then come together better than before, a glossy golden dough ready to be made into all sorts of delightful things like gougeres, eclairs, profiteroles (cream puffs), beignets, cakes, gnocchi, and honestly I have even made a killer sandwich from a split open eclair. Best of all, it is straightforward and easy to make.

Over Christmas I had an awesome afternoon with my nieces Anja, Calla, and Brynn making this dough. These girls are so fun and totally rocked it in the kitchen. They made an entire dinner for our family in Minnesota and most of the courses used pâte à choux! They made parmesan gougeres for an appetizer, gnocchi for the main course, and profiteroles and eclairs for dessert. I think we made eight batches of the dough in total and by the end they were each making their own batches and had the ingredients memorized. The day also happened to fall on my birthday (Dec. 28), so it was pretty much the best birthday ever.

I thought the best way to dig into this dough, is to start at the beginning of a meal with a beautiful canape (bite sized appetizer). These are particularly awesome right out of the oven and are equally at home being served at the beginning of a dinner party or in the middle of cozy afternoon.

Ingredients

1 c. water
1 stick of unsalted butter (4 oz)
1 c. AP flour
4 eggs
pinch of salt and pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 c. shredded gruyere cheese

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400 f.
  2. line a sheet tray with a silpat or parchment paper (not wax paper! I recently learned the hard way when I grabbed a box quickly without looking)
  3. In a medium saucepan bring water, butter, and salt to a boil over medium heat.
  4. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until dough comes away from the sides of the pan, about 30 seconds.
  5. Take the pan off of heat and add eggs one at a time, stirring until each egg is completely incorporated into the dough before adding the next one. This is when you will notice the dough will appear to “break”. Just keep stirring and before you know it, all will be well again and you will be ready to add the next egg.
  6. Stir in a pinch of pepper, nutmeg, and cheese.
  7. Use a spatula to transfer the dough to a piping bag. (you can even use a freezer bag with a corner snipped off). You are looking for about a ½” tip or opening.
  8. Pipe tablespoon size rounds (think 1”x1”) onto the sheet tray about 2 inches apart. There is a little bit of technique to give the gougères their round shape. I have a few tips for this:
    1. keep your pastry bag still when piping out the dough and keep the tip almost touching the sheet tray for each one.
    2. to make a clean break between the pastry bag and your piped gougere, instead of pulling up, make a quick and confident swipe to the side. This will leave a little mountain looking peak.
    3. After you’ve piped the entire tray, dip your finger in a little water and gently pat down the peak of each gougères.
  9. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and nicely puffed up. Remove from the oven, and serve immediately.
  10. To serve later, prick a hole in them with the tip of a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape. This will keep them crispy.

Component in Action

  • perfect just as is for a delicious canape
  • slice in half and make mini ham,swiss and dijon sandwiches
  • pipe into the side some softened fresh herb cream cheese