Monday, April 20, 2009

Piperade and Ratatouille

Heading towards the end of April (how did that happen?) but it feels like summer in the Bay Area, well, not exactly a Bay Area summer, as those are often cold and foggy, but like a real California summer, in the 90 degree range. I'm having early visions of pulling out the inner-tubes and heading up to the Russian River to that oh-so-secret tubing spot! On the way back, sunburned, river drenched and full of pabst blue ribbon, we'll stop at that cafe in Healdsburg for a pork cheek sandwich. Because nothing says summer like mixing Pabst with a gourmet sandwich!

But alas, the river is still a bit too cold. And I hear rain is in store for the weekend. Good to know that June is swiftly on it's way, and my favorite season will have all the good stuff in store. Oh how I love summer!

Ratatouille is a dish that I make year round, but with fresh garden vegetables it really comes to it's peak during the summer. I used to make a more casual version, just the vegetables without the piperade and I would serve it over cous-cous, but last year my then-boyfriend went digging for Thomas Keller's recipe as a vehicle to show off his new mandolin. We combined forces and I have to say, the finished result took more time, but was oh-so worth it. I've seldom seen such a beautiful dish, and the piperade gave it a depth of flavor that was really fantastic. And I have to say, it was one of our few kitchen collaborations that actually produced great success. Neither of us was a fan of giving up too much control in the kitchen, but this dish provided ample control-freak opportunities for us both. And we couldn't have been happier with the result.

This is adapted from the recipe that Keller created for Pixar's Ratatouille. I can attest to it's deliciousness. And really, who didn't love that movie?

For those who don't know, Piperade is like thick provincial sauce, for lack of a better term. I've recently read that it's a Basque recipe.

For the Piperade
1/2 red bell pepper (seeds and lining removed)
1/2 yellow bell pepper (seeds and lining removed
1/2 orange bell pepper (seeds and lining removed)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely diced, juices reserved
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1/2 bay leaf
kosher salt

For the vegetables
2 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 Japanese eggplant
1 red bell pepper
1 red onion
2 tomatoes
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1/8 tsp thyme leaves
kosher salt & pepper to taste

For the Vinaigrette
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp baslamic vinegar
assorted fresh herbs
kosher salt & pepper to taste

If you choose to make the piperade from scratch, pre-heat the oven to 450. Place the piperade pepper halves on a foil lined baking sheet, cut side down. Roast for about 15 minutes until the skin is loosened. Remove from oven and let cool, then peel and finely chop. Combine the onion, garlic in a pan with the olive oil and place over low heat until soft but not browned. Add the tomatoes, their juice, thyme, parsley and a bay leaf and let simmer for about 10 minutes until there is very little liquid left. Add the peppers and simmer until tender. Season with salt and remove the herbs. Reserve a tablespoon of the mixture and spread the rest into the bottom of your baking dish or skillet. Set oven to 275. Slice all ingredients on a thinner setting of a mandolin (alternatively you can skip that and just chop into small pieces as you like). Arrange the ingredients in alternating fashion over the piperade. Mix garlic, oil and and thyme in a bowl and season with salt. Sprinkle over the vegetables. Cover the dish or skillet with foil and crimp down on the edges to seal. Bake until the vegetables are tender, about 2 hours, uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. Remove and combine reserved piperade with oil, vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over the vegetables.

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