Tag Archives: picnic

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?

SCENES OF SUMMER

Quick lunch (Roasted beets, sunflower seeds, red leaf lettuce, fennel, walnut oil)

The Platonic Ideal of barbecue chicken (hours and hours over low, indirect heat). No seasonings, even. Just salt + pepper + a bit of olive oil. Unbelievable.

Lots

and lots

of great wine. (I promise I’m happier than I look!)

Quick dinner for two, huddled over kitchen counter (cucumbers, dried prunes + cherries, Vermont cheddar, baby swiss chard, saucisse)

Beautiful Ève and brood

Lunch // Upcycling cheese, beets, and lentils

And the best for last — saw Sade in concert. Mindblowing.

PICNIC SEASON IS HERE

The first picnic of the summer. Is there anything better, really? I like to do things properly: the proper soundtrack (a tote full of cassette tapes), the proper food (cheese, baguettes, fruit, nuts, four kinds of salad), the proper drink (prosecco, pellegrino and elderberry liqueur cocktails), the proper setting (a sparkling river) and, of course, the proper, perfect friends. This is my first summer in Montreal, and I couldn’t be more stoked.

RECIPE TO PREP A PICNIC

RECIPE FOR THE PERFECT PICNIC:

A seasonal salad served cold, or barely warm. We also made an on-site caprese. (This is all from the farmer’s market: 2 ears of corn, shucked, 3 tomatoes, diced, 1/2 lb green beans, halved, and minced garlic, all braised in butter + a bit of vegetable stock. Finish with lemon juice + red pepper flakes + salt and pepper. Delicious cold.)

The perfect location. Labyrinthine + deeply magical + with the deep scent of roses wafting throughout.

A deep basket to hold everything (including four bottles of contraband rosé.)

Mixtapes your boyfriend gave you and a cutting-edge portable sound system.

Plenty of charcuterie, cheeses, fruits, spreads, and crackers.

An adorable dog.

She is gorgeous. This looks like the beginnings of a very promising black velvet painting.

If you live in Portland, proper picnic attire means always being dressed for inclement weather, i.e. waterproof rain jacket.

With summer almost being over, the urge go picnicking has died down. I spend more time daydreaming about lamb stews + a roaring fireplace. But if you haven’t done a proper picnic at least once this summer, find a grassy spot + stay for at least five hours. Don’t forget to bring enough tapes.

my babe, my babe

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the matching bangs don’t seem egregious in real life, but in this photo it’s too much to bear.

smile around the face

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this simple summer meal had four parts, each of which shone in their own unique way. it is partly cobbled together ingredients from my fridge and partly farmers market purchases, and all of it was extremely fresh, healthy and delicious. each dish was equally easy to make, as the intensity and freshness of the ingredients  necessitated minimal cooking time.

oh, and: eating pork chops fresh off of the grill is my new raison d’être.

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the first stages of grilling (plus shot of  my new beloved rachel comey sandals, natch). you can really see how verdant the (slightly bastardized) chimichurri sauce is. it was so simple to make: 3 cups of cilantro, packed (including stems) + 3 cloves garlic + the juice of 3 limes + salt + black pepper + cayenne pepper. gave that a few pulses and drizzed in about 3 tsp good olive oil until the sauce formed. the milky-green marinade had a consistency of a semi-runny pesto and smelled FANTASTIC. don’t be put off by how acidic the marinade tastes raw. that’s how you know you did it right. the chimichurri flavors really mellow out on the grill, and the pork can stand up to the acids like the trooper it is.

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when the asparagus came off of the grill, the butter and natural sugar in the stalks had caramelized to delicious effect. after only a few minutes, the char from the grill created unspeakably succulent flavor & they weren’t overdone at all. salt and black pepper was all these little guys needed. we chomped on these as an appetizer while the rest of the food finished.

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check out those (haphazardly placed) grill marks! this little grill gets realllllly hot so everything was cooked entirely on the perimeters of the bbq. these were probably on the grill for 15-18 minutes, or until the internal registers at about 160 degrees.

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i remembered to take a photo of my plate when i was halfway done eating, oops. i just have to stress how unbelievably juicy the chops stay. pork chops have a tendency to dry out in the oven or on your skillet, but this created an awesomely juicy center and crispy, charred crust. highly recommended.

as for the swiss chard, i sliced it into supple ribbons and threw it in a very hot iron skillet with 1 red onion, diced. i left the ribs of the chard in – their shockingly magenta color and crunchy texture make them just as appealing as their leafy counterparts. after a few minutes of high heat stirring, i dumped in about 2 heaping tbsps of apple cider vinegar, a generous pinch of red pepper flakes, and lots of freshly cracked salt and pepper. i let it cook down (another 5 minutes or so) and then stirred in 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic. so healthy it hurts.

the pesto was homemade from garden trimmings and frozen over the winter. after a simply dethawing, we threw in 1 lb of rotini pasta and combined when done.

and that’s it! probably the most perfect summer dinner, ever — especially when enjoyed with a chilled, very good bottle of chardonnay from penguin bay from an earlier weekend excursion. eaten on a blanket in the grass outside admist the catepillars and 2 very energetic retrievers made for a pleasant evening indeed.

turquoise hexagon sun

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not sure why, but i get a bit of a boards of canada vibe from this photo.

Boards+of+Canada-Music+has+the+Right+to+Children