Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ratatouille-esque Gratin

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas (if that's your thing.) My gifts all had a general theme - get your ass in the kitchen - but there are no complaints from me as I now have a new covered casserole, oblong baking ramekins, recipe card index, and three beautiful, saliva-inducing cookbooks for Moroccan, Thai and Chinese cuisine. They are from the "Food Of" cookbook series, the same as my Indian cookbook and, just like that one, they are fantastic. Large (11.5 x 9in), with fantastic pictures, detailed cultural and culinary histories sprinkled throughout and, of course, inspiring recipes; there is a pickled pig's feet recipe in the China cookbook I am particularly eager to try. And carrot soup with couscous from Morocco. And deep-fried quail form Thailand. As you can see I have been going through sensory overload reading through these books deciding which recipes to try first; it is exhausting.

Which is why this recipe is not from any of the books mentioned above but rather one of the vegetarian cookbooks I read while at my sister's house. This time it was a culinary journey through the oft-unexplored vegetarian side of French cuisine (yes, that's right, I wrote "culinary journal") and I was intrigued, as I have neither cooked nor eaten much French food - just never appealed to me. These recipes, however, involved fairly simple ingredients with equally simple cooking techniques, yet produced intensely subtle (hooray for oxymorons!) flavors. Back in Kuwait I am limited in what I can reproduce, what with the absence of wine, but this ratatouille-style had excited me because I love cheese and it seemed hearty enough to fill Seth without any comments on the absence of meat. And it turned out all right, yet reaffirmed to me that I really don't like eggplant. Oh well: enjoy.

Ratatouille-esque Gratin 
The Vegetarian Bistro, Marlena Spieler

1 large eggplant (or 3 skinny), cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt for sprinkling
4tbsp olive oil
15-20 unpeeled garlic cloves, plus 3-5 peeled and minced cloves
1 onion, quartered
3 zucchini
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cut into strips (you could use jarred roasted red pepper)
8-10 tomatoes, diced
1tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
4-6oz fresh goat cheese or feta, diced or crumbled
1tbsp grated Parmesan
1tbsp grated Gruyere
1tbsp grated Gouda

1. Sprinkle the eggplant generously with salt and set aside for 30 minutes. When brown droplets of moisture appear rinse under cold water, drain, and pat dry with paper towels.

2. Heat a heavy skillet until very hot then add 1 tablespoon of oil. When oil is hot add eggplant, unpeeled garlic cloves and onion quarters. Reduce heat and cook until vegetables are lightly charred. Remove from heat and let cool to the touch.

3. Cook zucchini (whole) in boiling water until, about 15 minutes. Drain and let cool.

4. Preheat oven to 400F. Peel whole garlic cloves and return to eggplant mixture; dice onion quarters and return those, too, to the eggplant mixture.

5. Dice cooked zucchini and add it, along with the red pepper strips, tomatoes, minced garlic, rosemary and crumbled cheese, to the eggplant mixture. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

6. Pour into individual ramekins or a large gratin dish, then sprinkle top with grated cheeses.

7. Bake until lightly browned and crisped (mine took about 15 minutes.) Serve immediately.

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