Category Archives: outdoors

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?

Advertisements

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.

COUPLED UP

Last wedding post, I promise. (And it wasn’t even my wedding!) The day of Meredith’s wedding, it poured rain, which at first was stressful, but in retrospect was kind of nice. Everything was foggy and cool and sort of mysterious looking, in that Twin Peaks-kind of way. Definitely preferable to the scorching 100+ degree temperatures we were enduring only days earlier.

BLOSSOMS

One of the most special moments in Meredith’s Ithaca wedding had to be the harvesting of flowers at West Haven Farm. It’s moments like these that I really miss being out in the country.

MEETING OF THE MINDS

When Adam met up with me in Ithaca for Meredith’s wedding, it was his first time meeting all of my friends. Ever. Which is crazy, I know.

So, to commemorate the occasion, the evening he was to arrive, I schemed to organize a fête both special and low-key.

At first, I thought about organizing our gang to feast at our favorite Trumansburg restaurant. I even made a reservation.

But I quickly realized that what I really wanted was a simple dinner party, thrown in Adam’s honor, at my friend Katie’s cozy country home.

It was barely a party, really more of a garden supper, but it felt perfectly full of laughter and love. Curious what we ate?

Since there are no photos (blame the wine), here’s the menu, instead:

Assorted Piggery charcuterie (including a ham hock terrine that disintegrated in the upstate New York heat) // Spanish cheeses + olives

Homemade quick pickles // beets, red onions, local green beans, and carrots

Quartered Ithaca heirloom tomatoes served over barley // red wine vinaigrette

Crispy potato croquettes (I loosely followed this wonderful recipe) // homemade crème fraîche // chives // lemon wedges

Thick ribbons of pasta tossed with fresh ricotta // lemon // local corn // watercress // torn basil

Halved local Methley plums + honey served over thyme-flecked Sable Breton // so much more of that dangerous crème fraîche

That was it. Simple and sweet and buttery. And, upon reflection, a lot of carbs!

As a final note, I can’t recommend this simple Sable Breton recipe enough. The confetti of thyme in the dough really send this not-at-all-sweet dessert completely over the top. Make it for the person in your life who professes not to like dessert. They’ll love it.

In conclusion, if someone offers you up their gorgeous backyard to host a tiny, elegant dinner party — don’t turn their offer down.

And if someone offers to hang petite twinkling lights, set a table with their most beautifully mismatched linens, buy you a vase of scarlet flowers, and even hook up a sound system that may or may not lead to a protracted discussion of the band The Archies, definitely don’t turn their offer down.

And even if you can’t find a bottle of Fontsainte Gris de Gris from Corbieres at Red Feet, no worries. Pop open a bottle of Dr. Frank’s perfectly delicious dry reisling and sit down. It’s summertime, and you are with your favorite people in the world.

GOODBYES

Our farewell brunch was cooked by talented Sasha, who, on our final morning in Ithaca, casually whipped up one of her famous frittatas. (They are beautiful to look at, and they taste even better in real life!) This one was studded with sweet corn, basil, feta, and fingerling potatoes. I ate three fat wedges! There was also a mouthwatering tomato and peach salad, tiny blueberries, and a simple green salad. I was really glad I didn’t miss this meal, because I felt bummed after missing this one. Sasha’s food is so special, it made me want to stay forever, which may have been her plan all along.

NEW DIRECTIONS

Guess what? Last week I bought my very first DSLR! It’s been overwhelming and amazing trying to figure out how to work this thing, but I really love it so far. Perfect timing, too — I had it for my arrival in Ithaca and plan to bust it out every five minutes for the next two weeks.

Also, I’m kind of in love with my friend Bill’s coffee table (first photo). He has concert stubs dating back over a decade on display. Smart idea. I have a million shoeboxes stuffed with ticket stubs, and while I can’t bear to throw them away, I don’t know what to do with them, either.

Another genius idea? My friend Christian’s kimchi stew (!), third photo from bottom. He caught nine trout from the lake earlier that morning. I think I can safely say that it was some of the best fish I’ve ever had in my life. Ever.

It’s great to be back.