(not really) Tamara’s ratatouille

November 2, 2012

Tamara’s ratatouille

Page 74, Ottolenghi

Celebrations deserve Plenty! And tonight’s celebration was both a birthday and anniversary dinner for our dear friends, Gnomes and the Pirate. I had been planning an elaborate making of a dinner FULL of vegetables and goodness, so Ottolenghi’s ratatouille seemed like the perfect recipe to tackle. At the end of a long work week that I was BEYOND ready to bid adieu to, I thought I would be done with work at 4:00 and could shop and chop to prepare. As with many things in life, this did not go exactly as hoped. 5:00 P.M. found me still on a work call, unshowered, and without the ingredients I still needed to make Tamara’s ratatouille. In my world, Plenty often also involves lots of last minute improvisation, and this version of Plenty has to be called (not really) Tamara’s ratatouille. Thankfully, sometimes improvisation leads to even better results than anything that could have been planned – and such was the case with the recipe (using the term loosely).

So, a quick text to say we would be a bit later than I had originally planned, and a scan of our fridge to find what I had to work with and B and I were off! She sous-chefed for me, and soon the kitchen was delicious smelling and we were tasting bits of this and that and getting pretty excited about how the substitutions were coming together. I will put the *actual* recipe below, but you all should know that we had none of the red pepper, zucchini, or eggplant. We also had no french beans, but happened to have some frozen green beans left over from a recent run at green bean casserole to soothe our childhood cravings. Instead of the missing vegetables, we had cauliflower, sweet potato, carrots, mushrooms, and some fresh oregano. So I just substituted those things for what was missing and added them to the parsnips, winter squash, potatoand garden tomatoes that *were* actually in the recipe. It was a huge hit! The flavors in Ottolenghi’s sauce were spot on – and would be with ANY combination of vegetables you have at hand. And? the fact that ratatouille is essentially overcooked vegetables meant that there was time to shower while they simmered for the first 30 minutes and then to throw together a salad with romaine and Jaime’s fabulous pears while they baked for the last 30 minutes. A perfect dish if you need both the room for improvisation and self-preparation before a lovely evening with friends.

It transported perfectly in my favorite Catherine Holm baking dish (left to me by my Mimi and one of my treasured pieces) and was joined by a fantastic baked feta/tomato/olive dish that the Pirate made, the thrown-together salad, some grated fresh parmesan, and a crusty loaf of bread to make a totally warm and tasty celebration of plenty. Top it off with some fabulous red wine, sea salt brownies (worthy of their own post which I think you can find here http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2012/08/my-favorite-brownies/ ) and the company of wonderful friends, and it was a perfect Friday night.

Serves 4
7 tbsp sunflower oil 
2 small onions, cut into 1 1/4 inch dice
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 fresh green chili, thinly sliced (I used a jalapeno) 
2 small red peppers, cut into a 1 1/2 inch dice
1/2 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into a 1 1/4 inch dice
1 small parsnip, peeled and cut into a 1 1/4 inch dice
1 cup french beans, trimmed
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1 1/4 inch dice
1/2 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 1/4 inch dice
1 small potato, peeled and cut into a 1 1/4 inch dice
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp tomato paste
salt and black pepper
1 cup water
chopped cilantro to garnish (optional)
Pour two-thirds of the oil into a large heavy casserole dish or a pot and place on a medium-high heat. Add the onions and fry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, stir in the garlic, chili and red peppers and fry for another 5 minutes. Add the squash and parsnip and continue frying for 5 minutes. 
Using a slotted spoon, lift the vegetables out of the pot and into a medium bowl, leaving as much of the oil in the pot as possible. Top this up with remaining oil. Add the French beans, zucchini and eggplant to the hot oil and fry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
Return the contents of the bowl to the pot. Add the potato, tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste and plenty of salt and pepper. Stir well, then pour in the water. Cover with a lid and leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes. Taste the vegetables and add more salt and pepper, if you like.
Finally, preheat the oven to 400 F. Use a slotted spoon to gently lift the vegetables from the pot and into a large, deep roasting pan to make a layer about 1 1/4 inches thick. Pour the liquid over the vegetables and place in the oven to cook for 30 minutes. At this point all the vegetables should be very soft and most of the liquid evaporated. Garnish with cilantro, if you like, and serve.

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