One of my goals in this “new recipe” experiment is to improve my weekday lunch options. While I have success varying dinner ideas, lunch always seems to be the same rotation of cold cut sandwiches, yogurts and the occasional take-out. With this in mind, I started browsing the salad and vegetable sections of my cookbooks for a new recipe that could lend itself to lunch.
I was drawn to Ratatouille for two main reasons. 1) The three main ingredients – eggplant, tomato, onion – are three of my favorite foods. 2) It can be served hot or at room temperature (office microwaves are never the best). Once again, I chose to use The New Best Recipe by America’s Test Kitchens. One of the features of this book is that each recipe is prefaced with an explanation of the dish’s history and preparation. This was particularly useful for Ratatouille, as I had little familiarity with the dish itself.
The preface explains that there are two types of Ratatoiulle. French Ratatouille requires each vegetable to be prepared and cooked separately, whereas American Ratatouille combines all of the vegetables into one large pot to be cooked together. The authors claim that the American version results in the vegetables getting mashed together and the whole dish tasting like “watery tomatoes.” Not so appetizing. The French version, while more time consuming, allows for the individual flavors of the ingredients to stand out.
Unluckily for me, I hadn’t read this preface when I had planned out my week. After coming home from work ready to cook, I was feeling a little annoyed that the authors had opted for the slower version. On the upside, this recipe forced me to learn several interesting skills.
Salting Eggplant. The entire recipe was stalled for an hour while I waited for the salt to “eliminate the air pockets” in my eggplant. This was followed by a thorough rinsing and drying. I was a little skeptical, but I admit that it made the eggplant taste much better in the long run.
Peeling tomatoes. This required me to first core the tomatoes, then drop them in boiling water for 15 seconds, immediately followed by an ice bath. I ran out of ice cubes, so the poor tomatoes had to settle for a few pieces of ice in refrigerated water. But it still worked!
Using frozen herbs. Ok, this one was my own added skill. Mark and I are trying to get into the habit of freezing herbs so that we don’t constantly buy and throw out unused herbs. We’ve been very good at the storing part, but not so good at the remembering that they’re there part. This time, I actually remembered they were there! I was able to use fresh parsley, basil and thyme without having to buy anything!
Beyond these new techniques, the recipe was easy – but long. And there was no rest for the weary. The zucchini and eggplant had to be roasted for 40 minutes, but I had to rotate them every 10 minutes. And then the onions had to be cooked for 20 minutes, but they required frequent stirring. By the time I threw everything into the pot, I was becoming a bit more sympathetic to the American who created American Ratatouille.
After about two hours in the kitchen, I had almost become indifferent to the entire venture. But then I added the final herbs and took a taste. Not a hint of “watery tomatoes.” And the vegetables had not been reduced to mush. Perhaps the French had it right after all…
The real test was in eating it the next day. I have to admit, the flavors held up. And the heartiness of the eggplant filled me up fast. I was a little disappointed that Mark and I finished it in just two days. But we do have a tendency to make our portions quite big. That being said, if I were to make it again, I would definitely double the recipe to get a week’s worth of lunches in the same amount of time. I’ll call that Leslie-style Ratatouille.