CSA Week 3 - the beginning + ratatouille
I said last week I saw ratatouille in my future. It was meant to be. I briefly contemplated doing the fussy, layered version that Thomas Keller created for the movie "Ratatouille"[*] (a/k/a "Confit Byaldi"), but quickly abandoned that notion for a simpler approach. An onion from the pantry was chopped into about 1/2" pieces and sautéed in olive oil in a big sauté pan. Next in, the pepper, also given a rough chop. Next the eggplant - skin removed is up to you (I did so this time). The eggplant tends to soak up a lot of oil and you'll probably have to add more at some point to keep everything from sticking. My general thinking, similar to stir-frying, is to start with the harder vegetables that need more cooking time, then move to the softer ones. Some people actually cook each separately and then combine them, which seems overly fussy to me. I salt each addition to the pan as I go.
At this point my pan was getting full, so I dumped everything into a large bowl and started over again (if there's not enough surface for the new veg when they go in, they'll just steam instead of sauté). Here I added some chopped garlic to the pan, then the zucchini and yellow squash (also cut into about 1/2" pieces), then finally about 4 or 5 cherry tomatoes, quartered. Once they all had softened, the onion, pepper and eggplant went back into the pan so everyone could make friends. As I tasted this it kept calling out for more salt. Also some of the basil and parsley. To add a little depth of flavor, I also added a pinch of some Salish alderwood-smoked salt.
Meanwhile, I need to decide whether the Thai basil is too pungently spicy to make into a pesto, as that is the initial inclination I have upon seeing basil and green beans. The chard (which is nicely perky, a contrast to the somewhat droopy red chard from last week) will come to some good use. The cucumber will likely get a Momofuku-esque "quick pickle" and maybe find its way into some sandwiches. And after initially wondering, "What the hell am I going to do with piper betel leaves?" I'm now actually wishing I had more than the five that came in my box. Why? Because they're the traditional wrapping used for the Vietnamese dish bò lá lốt (grilled beef wrapped in leaves). Maybe some will have to be wrapped in chard instead.
[*]Ridicule me if you wish, but I think Ratatouille may be among the ten best food films ever made. As mentioned in this story, Keller was a consultant for the film and the filmmakers actually spent a week in the kitchen at The French Laundry. The whole project reflects a genuine commitment to "getting it right" that is unexpected in a "kids" movie. The food looks right, the details are on target (when they refer to wines, it is to 1947 Cheval Blanc and 1961 Latour), the interactions are those you could well hear in a real restaurant kitchen ("Keep... your... station clear! If meal orders come in, what will happen? Messy stations slow things down, food doesn't go, orders pile up, disaster! I will make this easier to remember: keep you station clean... or I WILL KILL YOU!"), and the performance of Peter O'Toole as the critic "Anton Ego" is priceless. In fact there is a scene of Anton Ego writing a review which I think is about as wise as anything I've read about food criticism:
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.