ONE MOORE TIME

Ratatouille, day 2 — even better than ratatouille, day 1. (Full recipe here). Too bad there is no more ratatouille to see if it gets even better on day 3.

On a different note — I wrote a piece for Maisonneuve Magazine describing my favorite R. Stevie Moore video moments. I find his videos hysterical and it was a lot of fun to sift through all of his (bizarre) work. The piece was written in conjunction with an event I’m featured in on Friday, as part of POP Montreal’s Symposium series. I’ll be interviewing R. Stevie Moore at 3:30pm at the POP Headquarters — please come check it out! (Oh and finally, my friend Sean wrote a handy guide to POP Montreal for the overwhelmed. It’s enormously helpful. Check it.)

FINAL RATATOUILLE

Last year I endured an entire summer without making a single batch of ratatouille, of which I have no one to blame but myself. This year, I vowed, would be different. I had long been intrigued by Richard Olney’s iteration of the classic ratatouille stew — he serves it froide, or cold, for lunch, and paired with a light, dry, well-chilled rosé — of which he raved about its syrupy, vivid, and satisfying qualities.

Ratatouille is, at heart, humble, country food, and Olney seems to agree: “Many people insist on… refinements, [that are] to me, without interest and not at all in keeping with the basic nature of a dish whose origins are simple and unpretentious.” In The French Menu Cookbook, Olney fits ratatouille into his ‘Simple Summer Luncheon à la Provençal,’ as the first course in a menu that also includes a blanquette of beef tripe with basil, steamed potatoes, tossed green salad, cheeses, and cherries with fresh almonds.

His words guided our thoughts the afternoon we decided to host an impromptu park picnic. The crown jewel of the evening would be none other than our vermillion Le Creuset pot, brimming over with cold stew. I made a few other simple dishes that evening, including a red leaf lettuce salad studded with chopped flat beans, red onion, corn, carrots, fennel, and a flurry of chopped herbs. A dish of glowing, egg-like new potatoes, with skins as delicate as tissue paper, were halved and coated in salted butter and avocado oil, dusted heavily with smoked paprika, and finished with crinklings of tarragon. And finally, we popped open a jar of my dilly beans, addictive in their uncanny similarity to potato chips. But most importantly, an awesome picnic is a group effort, and other treats materialized throughout the night, including a cluster of wine bottles, halved radishes, fresh cucumbers, charcuterie, a multitude of cheeses, and heirloom tomatoes.

Sadly, our days for picnics here in Montreal are numbered. I pulled on two sweaters this morning before making breakfast, and my sturdy denim jacket wasn’t quite enough protection on my bike last night. Troubling to say the least, and all the more reason to make a point to whip up a batch of ratatouille right away, before the opportunity eludes us yet another year, and all of these gorgeous vegetables disappear from the markets.

A few notes about Olney’s recipe: he suggests preserving the leftovers in sterilized glass jars — a wonderful idea. He stresses the importance of a ratatouille “well laced with thyme and garlic” and “impeccable” olive oil. And finally, he includes one fussy detail, in which he advises briefly separating the cooked vegetables from its liquid. The juice can then reduce separately into a thick syrup, and is then re-added to the pot. I found this totally unnecessary for what is purportedly such a ‘humble’ one-pot dish, and the results, I promise, are still spectacular.

Richard Olney’s Ratatouille Froide, adapted

1 pound white onions
2/3 cup olive oil
4 large, firm, well-ripened tomatoes (we used Romas)
1 pound sweet peppers (a mixture of red, yellow, and green)
1 pound eggplant (he recommends the small violet elongated variety; we love the tiny, lavender-hued, bulbous specimens from Birri, at the Jean-Talon Marche)
1 pound baby zucchini (the smallest available; I don’t think you can find these are the markets anymore, so any size would be fine)
6 cloves garlic
salt
pinch of Cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
a bouquet of parsley and 1 bay leaf
handful of finely chopped parsley (of course, we used basil instead!)
freshly ground pepper

—Peel and chop onions, and saute in 1/3 cup olive oil. Do not let them brown. Mince garlic and add to pot.
—Peel and seed tomatoes (we score tomatoes with an X and then blanch for 30 seconds for easy peeling).
—Dice zucchini, peppers, and eggplant into 1 inch square pieces. In a second pan, saute each separate vegetable until golden brown, and set aside. I did this in a couple of batches because there were so many vegetables. (We also used a good amount of goose fat in the saute process. Worth it, promise). You don’t want the vegetables to steam — we let them get nice and golden brown.
—Add cooked peppers and eggplant to the pot with onion and garlic. Add tomatoes. Let simmer, stirring gently. Add the thyme, cayenne, parsley, and bay leaf.
—Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a faint simmer, and cover with lid.
—Cook for two hours. At least! I think I went even longer. You’ll find that as the vegetables simmer and cook, they release even more liquid. It’s incredible to watch and defies logic — instead of drying up in the pot, the vegetables just get juicier, stickier, and more syrupy. Oh, and the smell will be incredible.
—Finish with the remaining olive oil, freshly torn basil, and pepper, stirring carefully to avoid crushing the vegetables. Let cool, then serve with crusty bread and a big glass of wine. I found the Lirac red of Château Mont-Redon to be a wonderful, charming pairing.

And come on, did you really think I wouldn’t mention this?

SALAD DAZE

I think I have a new favorite salad. It’s true love. Sadly, our relationship can’t last forever.

Isn’t she a beauty? Alas, our relationship is temporary because the ingredients are 90% seasonal. Our tomatoes are practically gone, and this is the last week for corn. Don’t even get me started about fresh cannellini beans and those tender green beans. Sigh.

Some mornings I wake up with wicked cravings. Recently, it was Salade Niçoise.

After a quick run to the market, I had absolutely every fresh ingredient I needed. The freshly shelled cannellini beans were the crowning jewel.

So pretty. I could hardly bear to throw away the bean’s papery, creamy husks.

The wannabe-stylist in me loved assembling this gargantuan salad. I thought about organizing all of the colors in a rainbow sequence, but then thought better of it. I was missing the color blue, anyway.

Adam surprised me with a few treats of his own, too, including this platter of ripe figs. I’ve learned so much about proper fruit from him — like a fig that isn’t jammy, oozy, sticky, and basically sugary mush isn’t worth eating. I’ve learned to steer clear of all of those firm, tasteless, expensive figs. Goodbye.

He had another surprise, too — wild Quebec blackberries, smaller than my pinkie fingernail, and so sweet and tender. I haven’t had this much fun eating blackberries since I lived in Portland and ate them everyday.

The finest kind of salad, in my opinion, is just thoughtful assembly. I once had a mindblowing Salade Niçoise in a small bistro in Paris, but honestly when you have ingredients this splendid and this fresh, nothing else will ever compare. Nothing else will ever come close. Ingredients to consider in varying degrees of proportion when putting together your own Salade Niçoise:

Sliced avocado (that would be my California upbringing rearing its head, saying, “put avocado in every salad you make, ever”)
Sliced tomatoes
Fresh, raw corn
Summery green beans, blanched briefly
Diced red onion, carrots, and celery
A fistful of freshly shelled cannellini beans, boiled until tender
Soft-boiled eggs (note: I hate hard-boiled eggs, but that would be the more traditional option)
New potatoes, boiled for 20 minutes, then cut into discs
Halved olives (we used Kalamata)
Can tuna packed in oil
Some kind of tender lettuce (I spotted some handsome heads of Boston lettuce at Birri recently)
Parsley to garnish; lemon vinaigrette to dress.

I’m really trying to enjoy my salad days while I can. And honestly, this was one of the best lunches I’ve had in along time.

“..My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…”

A PAIR OF TARTS

This was my first year at Montreal’s Oysterfest, and man was it good. Plenty of Montreal’s culinary heavy hitters were there — Cafe Myriade, Olive + Gourmando, DNA, Osteria Venti, Kaizen,  and my friend Michelle, the lovely pastry chef at Laloux. She orchestrated the most remarkable dessert, a three-bite Ontario peach tartlet with a hidden sour cherry tucked underneath, topped with a spoonful of dangerous bourbon cream. It reminded me — in the best way possible — of those tiny plastic cups of fruit cocktail that you got at snack time as a small child. Syrupy, sticky, wholesome, and glowing. As her assistant, I was allowed to devour as many tarts as I wished. I think I ate about six.

The day began early. 7am for Chef Marek, and 12pm for me, her tableside helper. Around noon, we were still at Laloux, and without a car. How were we going to transport 200 delicate, still-warm tarts to Old Montreal?

Michelle, always the resourceful one, called a cab. We sat through the bumpy ride, our laps cradling baking sheets lined with tarts, the trunk filled with tubs of pastry cream on ice. Pretty sure our driver thought we were crazy.

Things picked up around 2pm, when we were handed our first sandwich — DNA’s massive, clownish prochetta “sandwich.” It was bigger than our dinner plate, heaving with waves of fat and dripping with aoili. The pork belly was tender, and slathered with a fragrant herbal spread and capers. I managed a few bites and passed it on.

The others didn’t fare much better. Everyone gawked and put away a couple of bites, but in the end, I don’t think we made much of a dent in the sandwich.

The other highlight was Venti’s magnificent timbale, which was coated in one of the freshest-tasting tomato sauces I’ve ever had. Michelle and I were in awe.

After stuffing ourselves silly, we finally set up our table at 4pm. Okay, so maybe our little booth wasn’t as flashy as some of the others. And maybe we completely forgot about signage until halfway through, when Michelle brilliantly thought to write the name of her dessert on the back of a plate. The queries of, “Who are you?” and “What is this?” just got to be too much. Oh yeah, and for the first 20 minutes we didn’t even have napkins, plates, or forks. People still bought them, though. They were that good.

And after two hours, they were all gone. Every single one. I guess I shouldn’t have eaten six of them after all. Next year, I have to get the Dep in on the action.

SUPER MEATY

Sketched out a poster for an upcoming concert in the hour before I left for work. Somehow, even when it’s not about food, it’s still about food. Feels nice to doodle again. It would be nice to get back into silkscreening and make proper concert posters, but this is okay for now. (Also, this concert is going to be incredible. Please come out!)

TOTALLY PORKED

Our Pork Club BBQ at Le Pick Up last Friday was a massive success — oodles of thanks to everyone who came out! I knew the day was going to be special when we woke up to super sunny skies and a flirty breeze. Bartek and I rode our bikes to Marche Jean Talon and tried to stuff 50lbs of new potatoes into his bike baskets (an insane prospect), and I spent the afternoon outside, chopping potatoes and prepping beans on our picnic tables out back while drinking about a million glasses of calimocho. It was totally perfect, though I wouldn’t recommend frosting two massive red velvet cakes while slightly buzzed, and then serving people dinner for four hours straight. Afterward, we hung out on the terrace and ate our lion’s share of pork chops. I’ll be really sad when it gets cold here, the warm weather makes everyone so happy.

More photos here.

NEW WEEK

Early morning breakfast. I’m trying half-heartedly to eat less gluten, which means that I’m eating one piece of toast for breakfast instead of three. Baby steps. For breakfast I stewed a pot of freshly shelled cranberry beans and added diced carrots, fennel, shallots, thyme, basil, mint, and a bit of butter. I finished with some old white wine, lemon juice, and a diced tomato, which made everything quite tart and acidic, perfect for breakfast.