Category Archives: celebration

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?

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.

SEPTEMBER GIRLS

Phew, this week really escaped from me. Some nice things —

a stunning new exhibition by Liz Harris (aka Grouper) at Nationale in Portland (I love the hand imagery, of course)—

some mouthwatering photos taken at the Chez Panisse 40th Anniversary—

and an interview I did recently with Boston-based drone musician John Kolodij (aka High Aura’d) for Foxy Digitalis—

and the details for an event hosted by Maisonneuve Magazine, in which I interview the estimable R. Stevie Moore—

finally, I’ll be helping my friend Michelle serve up peach pastry at tomorrow’s Oysterfest in Old Montreal. I’m getting paid in oysters— the best kind of payment! Details here and I hope to see you there!

HOME STYLE

Beautiful Sasha made me dinner! Roasted red pepper + feta + crispy sweet potato frittata with salad greens + tomato + cucumber + herbs. “Easy peasy,” she called it. I love her style of cooking so much. Similar to me, yet super different, too. I always feel like I learn so much when I watch her cook. We brought a wedge of Red Meck — so salty and smooth.

On Starting With Gougères

My friend Katherine recently planted a terrific idea in my brain.

“Can we please eat lobsters and drink white Burgundy together? Like, soon?” It was like I had never heard of a more amazing idea in my life.

Fast forward one week and five grocery trips later, and Adam and I were confronted with a refrigerator bursting forth with eight lobsters and nine bottles of white wine. Conceptually, we decided on a menu that melded both classic Burgundian and traditional American techniques — kinda like me and Adam, actually.

This is what we came up with:

Champagne with raspberry syrup // Gougères  // Smoked salmon with crème fraîche, lemon and cucumber

Wilted pea shoots + baby swiss chard + garlic // Richard Olney’s 45-minute scrambled eggs with fava beans + garlic sourdough rye croutons

Boiled lobster with tarragon butter + garlic-scallion butter + green peppercorns // Boiled new potatoes with scallions + walnut vinaigrette

Peach tart with fresh pastry cream //

The night was magical, and I’ll share all the recipes in the next few days, starting with the gougères, a savory choux pastry — picture a French cheese puff — traditionally made with milk, cheese, flour, salt, and egg. (I’ve also seen variations that use white pepper or Dijon mustard). Gougères are often made with salty Gruyère, but you could use Comté or emmenthaler, too. They’re an indisputably classic — and irresistible — French hors d’oeuvre, and happen to pair spectacularly with white Burgundy, and even champagne. Though I loosely followed an old Saveur recipe, Dorie Greenspan’s iteration looks lovely, too. The finished gougères are a thing to behold — light to the touch, and even lighter in the mouth. And they couldn’t be simpler to make.

Makes 3 dozen. Adapted from here.

Saveur’s Gougères

8 T butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup whole milk
Salt
1 cup AP flour
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups grated gruyère cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup water and butter in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add salt. Bring to a boil and remove pan from heat when butter has melted.

2. Dump in flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the batter pulls away from the sides of the pan. (This took less than a minute for me; it should happen very quickly).

3. Return pan to heat for one minute, stirring. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

4. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Make sure dough is smooth after each addition — it should look shiny and slick, and very thick.

5. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese until well combined.

6. Scoop spoonfuls of batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and brush each puff with a bit of milk, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup grated cheese.

7. Bake 20 minutes, or until golden and light. Serve immediately.

SUMMER BAKING

Consider this a recipe dump for all things regarding baked goods. At a recent St. Jean bbq at work, I may have gone slightly overboard, featuring:

This cardamom-scented upside-down strawberry cake from Joy the Baker…

This (quite lopsided) raspberry-rhubarb galette from Lottie + Doof…

This stupendously rich chocolate cake with raspberry compote from David Lebovitz, via Cucina Nicolina…

And this lemon cake from Vitae Curriculum, with my own lemon curd recipe (use lots of yolks, no sugar, and more zest than you think you need).

And with leftover lemon cake batter and leftover chocolate ganache, I made a pan of cupcakes, too. And finally, a bit of homemade whipped cream, made by whipping a cup of heavy cream with a few tablespoons of sugar.

A BIRTHDAY GONE AWRY

Sorry for the brief radio silence. There was an…. incident late Saturday night.

I was preparing a simple, fresh dinner for my friend Himo’s birthday party. The meal I had envisioned was going to be perfect. There was a translucent shavings of fennel with wild, peppery arugula, thin discs of zucchini, chopped dill, toasted walnuts, purslane (my favorite!), and mustard greens. There were slender, crisp radishes that we halved and served with blanched radish greens and sauteed bacon. There was an tremendously easy pasta dish with my chopped garlic scape and garden basil pesto, no blender needed. And, of course, there was a birthday cake, a light lemon cake with fresh, oozing lemon curd and a delicate vanilla buttercream, using a combination of this recipe and that recipe. (I also made it for this work party). There was rum that we brought back from Jamaica, and cigars for the boys.

But somewhere along the way, I slipped. To be precise: I slipped a knife, while chiffonading basil, right through my thumb, slicing off half a fingernail and a good bit of flesh. And because I love birthday parties and I was deep into the wine, I actually waited a full day before Adam finally convinced me that I had to go to the ER. I’m fine, of course — and I suppose that anyone who works in a kitchen everyday should expect a few accidents — but it’s stilll a drag (my whole right hand hurts, so I had to type this post with one hand only).

My one consolation — dinner still rocked. And that’s all that matters, right? The show must go on, etc etc and all that.