Category Archives: dinner

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?

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THROWN TOGETHER, EATEN UP

Buying a few clutch pre-made dishes, dressing them up in a more personal way, and preparing a few other easy side dishes might be one of the easiest ways ever to throw an impromptu dinner party. Everyone’s happy and everything’s delicious.

Earlier that morning, we took our friends out to Abu Elias and did a little grocery shopping of our own. Of course, I couldn’t resist their excellent hummus, or a pound of their excellent beef tartare, which is massaged with bulghur wheat, cumin, sumac, and other spices. But we also ordered a huge carton of fatteh (but then buttered and toasted our own pita chips to ensure crispiness late into the night), and a delicious lahmajoun.

I cracked open a jar of tiny pickled carrots that I made earlier in the week, and we readied a platter of radishes, waiting to be sliced in half and spread with butter. Adam prepped a small plate of celery sticks and taramosalata (a killer combo). We made a huge tomato, olive, and pepper salad, and a quick tabbouleh. I even whipped up (perhaps incongruously) a warm potato salad, with crispy pan-fried potatoes, tender green beans, bacon, scallions, and a rich mustard-crème fraîche vinaigrette.

But my favorite dish of the evening was derived from a recipe that I’ve had an eye on for months — a simple beetroot salad dressed with pistachios, lemon juice, and mint, from the indispensible Moro East cookbook. We picked up a bundle of gorgeous chiogga beets from the market, and roasted them in foil until tender. The Clarks like to thinly slice their beets and dress them with a chunky vinaigrette that includes minced pistachios, orange blossom water, mint, parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice. It was outstanding — light and floral but full of flavor.

SOME SPECTRE FOLKS

Thank you to everybody that came out for the Spectre Folk and MV+EE concert last week at La Brique. The music was incredible, and the night super fun.

Because La Brique has a big kitchen, I decided to make everyone a massive dinner before the show: a savory potato-rosemary tart in whole wheat pastry; Richard Olney’s zucchini gratin (the key is plenty of anchovies and a freshly-made persillade); Richard Olney’s baked eggplant with fresh tomato sauce and ricotta; wild arugula tossed in mustard-walnut oil vinaigrette; smoked salmon, taramosalata, dill, Beluga lentil “caviar,” and lemon wedges on toasted Fairmount bagels; and Lulu‘s (by way of Richard Olney) gorgeous walnut gateaux with homemade crème fraîche and halved Quebec plums (Lulu’s book can be hard to find; David Lebovitz presents his adaptation of Lulu’s cake here).

But the most popular dish of the evening? An unexpected combination of pickled carrots, diced celery, and clams, smuggled in from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Oceanic, bracing, and very pleasantly chewy.

THE PAST IS PRESENT

My  old friend Meghan was in town for the weekend in preparation for her inspiring workshop at Le Pick Up, so the night she and Claudia were to arrive, I had a cozy, hot meal ready and waiting. We snacked on leftover charcuterie, cheeses, and homemade pickled carrots with hummus and breadsticks, and then moved onto dinner, starting with a salad of wild arugula laced with toasted hazelnuts, nectarines, and avocado, thinly dressed with walnut oil and sherry vinegar. We finished with a vibrant herb and mustard-rubbed pork loin served over beluga lentils (I love their rich, glossy black color) and new potatoes roasted in bacon grease. And finally, the fruit crumble seems to be every cook’s go-to uber-lazy dessert (it is for me anyway), and this luscious dish of halved golden plums roasted in blueberry honey and minced thyme was no exception. I often prefer my fruit desserts more tart than sweet, and this almost had an addictive sourness that I loved.

It’s so great to see old friends. A decade later, and very little has changed about our friendship, though we’ve grown so much in individual ways. So nice. I often wish I could gather all the people I love into one city, so I can see them whenever I want. Selfish, I know.

PIZZA PARTY

Last weekend I helped host a bachelorette weekend for my friend and future bride Meredith. The night before the bridal shower, I made Meredith’s favorite food for dinner. Pizza!

Now that I’m writing for Slice, the heat is really on to make some superlative pies. My favorite tip so far? Michelle once told me that the key to great pizza sauce is to not cook it — and I had always simmered my sauce on the stove first. She liked to blitz a can of San Marzano tomatoes in a blender with some salt and garlic, and then ladle the raw sauce onto the dough. The tomatoes heat up in the oven, and the taste remains fresh and vibrant. Genius.

[And also — are you in Ithaca? Sasha and Jarek are hosting a show with my friends tonight!]

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.