Category Archives: food

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…”

PIZZA, AND A NEW AGE MISTAKE

Fellow pizza freaks, I recently wrote a little write-up for Slice about the fantastic VPN pies at Pizzeria Libretto, a small restaurant in Toronto’s Little Portugal. In my own limited experience, it is, by far, the best pie I’ve eaten in Canada. (Miles better than anything we have in Montreal, that’s for sure.) I went to lunch alone while Adam was doing some research, and brought him my leftovers, neatly packaged by the restaurant in a cute bag. Needless to say, he was stoked when I surprised him with some cold pizza to snack on while we drove to Norman Hardie! Read the whole thing here.

Also, as we made our way through the city on our way to Prince Edward County, I noticed this Kay Gardner bridge and immediately thought of Kay Gardner, the awesome new age musician. I couldn’t believe that someone in Toronto would name a bridge after her! I thought it was the coolest thing that I had ever seen. Adam, however, thought I was crazy and that no one would do that. He was right. The bridge is named after some politician. Lame.

SEMI ROUTINE

Breakfast with my boyfriend always includes a little bit of fruit, artfully arranged, a little bit of bread, toasted (though I’m trying to cut back), a little bit of cheese and butter, and, if I’m lucky, a fried egg or two. Lots of cracked pepper and fleur de sel. It’s an unstoppable breakfast. This kind of meal doesn’t happen every day, but it’s nice to take 30 minutes out of your morning to relax and enjoy some nice food. I can’t believe it’s already September. It was hard to say goodbye to the greengage plums, and now I have to say goodbye to peaches, too?

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.

MORNING PERFECTION

Our talented and awesome friend Michelle gave us a generous parcel of her blackberry brioche. The brioche was some of the best I’ve ever had, truly donut-like in character, tender, sweet, and light. I gobbled one down for breakfast, accompanied with some green tea, syrupy Greengages and Ontario nectarines.

TECHNIQUE + HABIT

Salmon is a forgiving fish, but not always. Through years of trial and error, I’ve found that a nice side of wild salmon (I pick out the pin bones with a pair of tweezers) will always stay tender and moist if it is simply brushed with a bit of olive oil, dusted with salt and pepper, and shoved under the broiler for about five minutes. Keeping a watchful eye and finishing with generous squeezes of lemon renders perfect fish, every time. (Okay, not every time). I find that roasting salmon, on the other hand, delivers a slice of anemic-looking fish with the texture of cat food… and I have yet to master the pan-sear. Live and die by the broil method.

Alongside the salmon was a simple green salad dressed in walnut oil, roasted new potatoes and chopped scallions, and sauteed green beans and carrots. (The key to perfect string beans is to parboil them in salted water for two minutes before flinging them into a piping hot frying pan, where they snap and sizzle for another couple of minutes and attain the perfect amount of crisp and char).