Meatless Monday: Remy’s Ratatouille (Version II)

Main Dishes, Recipes, Side Dishes

Okay friends, so a few weeks ago, we brought you our quick and easy version of the ratatouille from the Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille. Not content to have replicated the dish mainly in appearance and less so in taste, I decided to tackle the daunting recipe for confit byaldi by the master himself Thomas Keller, the culinary consultant for the movie. In that sense, his recipe is Remy’s ratatouille, so I just had to try it his way. It looks very similar in appearance (and I’ve found that it takes great patience to arrange those concentric slices while your stomach’s growling), but the flavor… it was like the scene in the movie when Remy’s taste buds figuratively exploded from his sensory bonanza. So vastly different in the best way.

Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi (aka The Ratatouille from Ratatouille)

Thomas Keller’s Confit Byaldi (aka The Ratatouille from Ratatouille)

As you may notice just from looking at the photo, slicing the vegetables, arranging them in overlapping layers, drizzling with olive oil, sprinkling with salt, garnishing with thyme, topping with parchment circles, and baking for 40 minutes at 375 degrees are all the same as my first version, so in this post, I am going to focus more on the piperade and balsamic reduction, two elements that played a huge role in the dramatic, bold flavors that truly brought out the sweetness and earthiness of the vegetables themselves.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

Piperade:

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 orange bell pepper

1/2 yellow bell pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1/2 sweet onion, finely diced

12 ounces fresh tomatoes, diced OR 1 14-ounce can of tomatoes plus 3-4 fresh tomatoes, diced

2-3 sprigs of thyme

Salt

Balsamic Reduction:

1 cup balsamic vinegar

(and a jar in which to store the reduction)

(Adapted from the confit byaldi recipe posted in the New York Times in 2007)

Roasted Peppers (Before)

Roasted Peppers (Before)

First, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove the seeds and ribs (the white flesh) from the bell peppers. Arrange on a baking sheet cut side down. Roast until the skin pulls away from the pepper and the edges blacken, about 15 minutes.

Sauteing Onions

Sauteing Onions

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Saute the garlic and onions until the onions are softened and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Roasted Peppers (After)

Roasted Peppers (After)

When the peppers are done, pull them out of the oven and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle.

Cooking Down the Tomatoes

Cooking Down the Tomatoes

Add the tomatoes and thyme to the skillet with the onions and season with a sprinkling of salt. Simmer over low heat to reduce and concentrate the juices until there is very little liquid remaining, about 10-15 minutes. While the sauce is reducing, slice your vegetables and prepare your parchment paper circles. Also, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Chopping Bell Peppers

Chopping Bell Peppers

By now the peppers should still be warm but manageable. Peel off the skins and chop finely.

Piperade - the finished product

Piperade – the finished product

Stir in the chopped roasted bell peppers and remove the thyme (leaves are OK but definitely get rid of the thick stems). Now your piperade is ready to go!

First, the Piperade

First, the Piperade

Spread a thin layer of the piperade at the bottom of each baking dish, no more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.

Layering Vegetables

Layering Vegetables

Start layering the vegetables, overlapping the slices but leaving just enough of the underlying layer visible for its color. Brush the top with a bit of olive oil to help keep the exposed squash from drying out. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and lay a sprig or two of fresh thyme on top. (If you can’t get fresh thyme, dried would be okay too), Top with your pretty parchment circles and press down gently. The light brushing of oil will help the paper “stick” and stay close to the vegetables.

Ready for the Oven!

Ready for the Oven!

Bake in the 375 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes.

Start your balsamic reduction. Pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once you see large bubbles, drop the heat and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. As the balsamic reduces, it burns more easily, so just keep a watchful eye on it. It is done when it reaches the consistency of honey and coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.

When you are a few minutes away from the oven timer going off, start toasting crostini-sized slices of baguette (about 1/2-inch thick, sliced on a bias).

Hot Out of the Oven!

Hot Out of the Oven!

Remove the parchment and the (probably burnt) sprig of thyme before serving. Drizzle with the balsamic reduction.

Just like last time, this recipe ended up yielding four 5″ diameter ramekins (I used low, fluted creme brulee dishes) plus enough leftover for one 8″ diameter pie dish… about 4-6 servings total.

Ratatouille Version I - the final product

Ratatouille Version I – the final product

So what do you think? Which is better, 1?

Ratatouille Version II - the finished product

Ratatouille Version II – the final product

Or 2? (If these were the kinds of images my optometrist would show me, I might not mind my annual check-ups so much!) (Also, yes – I probably should have cleaned up the ramekin a bit. I think those toasty spots give it a rustic character… no?)

Bon appetit!

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Meatless Monday: Remy’s Ratatouille (Version I)

Main Dishes, Recipes, Side Dishes

Happy Meatless Monday! Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been a fan of a) Disney movies and b) seeing food on TV and wishing I could make something equally nice at home. So after watching the Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille for the umpteenth time, I thought to myself, Self, that ratatouille looks gorgeous and if it’s good enough to render Anton Ego speechless, then I want to make it myself! I got hold of some squash, tomatoes, and (to make things even easier) some homemade tomato sauce that had been gifted to us. Without the use of any recipes aside from a few (okay… maybe a dozen) screenings of the cooking scene in the movie along with a quick Google Image search for pictures of the final product, I ended up with this:

Ratatouille Version I - the final product

Ratatouille Version I – the final product

Not bad, right? To be honest, this version of ratatouille is just a quick and easy way to enjoy the heartiness and comfort of the roasted vegetables in a delicious (and vegan!) dish that gets to the dinner table in as little as one hour. It mostly resembles Remy’s ratatouille in its styling with the use of thin slices as opposed to a chunky stew, but the sauce has been simplified and I omitted eggplants as a personal preference, (Remy, by the way, is the name of the rodent protagonist in the movie.) I learned recently that Remy’s version had been adapted from Thomas Keller, who was the culinary consultant during the production of the film. His confit byaldi recipe was posted in the New York Times in 2007, the same year the movie was released. So, for those of you doing the math, yes – I’ve been wanting to make this dish for the past 6 years and only recently became inspired and confident enough to give it a go.

A "before" photo

A “before” photo

I am calling this Version I because while I do intend to tackle Thomas Keller’s recipe with its more traditional red bell pepper and tomato sauce base in the near future, this attempt was pretty darn tasty. Tasty enough, I feel, to be worth sharing. This recipe ended up yielding four 5″ diameter ramekins (I used low, fluted creme brulee dishes) plus enough leftover for one 8″ diameter pie dish… about 4-6 servings total. You could probably make two 8″ diameter pie dishes or one gratin dish if you were to make multiple layers (mine were all single-layered). We enjoyed this simply spread onto toasted baguette slices, though it would make an excellent side dish to a protein of your choosing.

A mandoline is a must-have to easily get those uniform, thin slices.

A mandoline is a must-have to easily get those uniform, thin slices.

NomNomCat Tip #1: The sauce. I used a homemade tomato sauce (roma tomatoes, garlic, onions, thyme, oregano – all simmered together until reduced) as the base, though ratatouille is more traditionally served with a roasted red pepper and tomato blend. For our simplified version, you are welcome to use your favorite homemade (or even store-bought if you must) tomato sauce.

NomNomCat Tip #2: The vegetables. There are so many versions of ratatouille but many feature a combination of zucchini, yellow squash, tomato, eggplant (aubergine), and/or bell peppers. What makes this particular ratatouille special is its presentation. The thin slices, easily accomplished with a mandoline, roast up quickly and look impressively colorful. When purchasing your produce, you’ll want to keep in mind that vegetables of similar diameters will yield the best circles for layering. Also, beware that squashes hold a lot of water which release during the baking process. To avoid soggy ratatouille (especially if you are using eggplants), sprinkle the slices with a bit of salt to draw out some of its water before layering; . Lastly, depending on the size of your vegetables, the quantity may vary. You just want to end up with an approximately even number of slices of each vegetable (if you’re OCD like I am) or you can always adjust your layering patterns to accommodate any shortages. Have fun with it!

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 to 2 zucchinis

2 to 3 yellow squash

3 to 4 roma tomatoes

10 ounces of tomato sauce

A few tablespoons of olive oil

Salt & pepper

Sprigs of fresh thyme

Fresh chives (optional; for garnish)

French baguette (serving suggestion)

Parchment Circles

Parchment Circles

First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Then prepare your parchment paper circles. You’ll need to top each dish with these later and it’s much easier to measure when the vessels are empty than when they are stacked full of vegetable slices. To make a quick circle, tear off a square sheet of parchment. Fold it in half twice so that you get a smaller square. Fold the side with 2 “flaps” onto the side with the single thick crease, making a triangle. Flip over and fold one more time, so that the side with 3 flaps matches up with the (new) single thick crease. Line up the point approximately in the center of the dish and eyeball the length of the radius. Using scissors, snip across in a slightly curved line. Unfold and voila – a perfect (ish) circle!

Zucchini slices

Zucchini slices

Next, prepare your vegetables. I used my Kyocera ceramic blade mandoline on its thickest setting (3.0 mm) so I had all of my vegetables sliced in a matter of minutes.  If slicing by hand, just be careful – the slices should not be paper thin or they’ll fall apart in the cooking process. A few millimeters thick and most importantly, consistent thickness for even baking.

Yellow squash slices

Yellow squash slices

Set your slices aside. I let the two squashes share a dish while the tomatoes sat in a separate bowl since they had already started releasing their juices.

Sauce the dishes

Sauce the dishes

I used our tomato sauce straight out of the refrigerator since we will be baking it anyway. Spread a thin layer at the bottom of each baking dish. These ramekins held about 2-3 spoonfuls of sauce apiece and I used the remainder to line my 8″ pie dish.

Start layering!

Start layering!

Start layering! Have fun with this step. Mine are all in the same pattern (yellow squash, zucchini, tomato, yellow squash, zucchini, tomato) to streamline the process and to satisfy my inner OCD. You are welcome to mix it up or arrange them randomly. Just be sure to overlap the slices, leaving just enough of the underlying layer visible for its color.

Drizzle with oil

Drizzle with oil

Brush the top with a bit of olive oil to help keep the exposed squash from drying out. I drizzled a thin line of oil over the top and rubbed it on with a clean finger. Whatever works.

Almost ready for the oven!

The larger dish – almost ready for the oven!

Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and lay a sprig or two of fresh thyme on top. (If you can’t get fresh thyme, dried would be okay too),

Top with parchment

Top with parchment

Top with your pretty parchment circles and press down gently. The light brushing of oil will help the paper “stick” and stay close to the vegetables.

The big reveal!

The big reveal!

Bake in the 375 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes. When you are a few minutes away from the timer going off, start toasting crostini-sized slices of baguette (about 1/2-inch thick, sliced on a bias).

Voila - ratatouille!

Voila – ratatouille!

Remove the parchment and the (probably burnt) sprig of thyme before serving. To make things extra pretty, I borrowed Remy’s plating idea to use a single chive tip to garnish. Although now I have a lot of leftover chives in my refrigerator… time to research another recipe!

We each ate two of those ramekins with toast for dinner and split the contents of the pie dish for the next day’s lunch. If you plan to serve this as a side dish, I think one ramekin per person would be sufficient. One of my friends likes to drizzle the ratatouille with balsamic vinegar before baking (or balsamic reduction after baking would also work), top it with gobs of goat cheese and serve it over pan fried polenta. Fancy!

Dress it up or dress it down, there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy this comforting dish especially on a cool autumn night. Bon appetit!

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———————

our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing EdgeThis event aims to connect food bloggers all over the world and inspire us to try new things. The ratatouille from Ratatouille has been on my bucket list for literally years and I cannot believe how easy it turned out to be! My only regret is not working up the courage to try making this sooner, but as they say, better late than never!

We are hosting this month’s link party and we can’t wait to see the autumn dishes from our friends in the northern hemisphere AND the spring dishes from our friends in the southern hemisphere!

Want to join our link party? Check out this post for details. ALL bloggers are welcome.

Cheers!

Vietnamese Stir-Fried Rice Noodles (Banh Lot Xao)

Main Dishes, Recipes

One of my favorite street food style Vietnamese dishes is bánh lọt xào – a simple stir fry of rice noodles, eggs, and a molasses-based “thick soy sauce.” The flavor profile bears resemblance to bánh bột chiên, a Vietnamese pan-fried rice cake similar to the turnip cake served at dim sum restaurants. There are only a few ingredients involved, so if you have the fixins on hand, this could make for a very quick meatless dinner!

The Finished Product!

The Finished Product!

NomCat Tip for the Ingredients:

1. Bánh Lọt: The namesake of the dish, these noodles are readily available at Asian grocery stores that stock freshly made rice noodle products, tofu, soy milk, etc. They can be found next to the hủ tiếu (wide, flat rice noodles) packaged in clear bags like in the photo below. The brand we purchased hails from El Monte, CA and is labeled “rice pin noodles,” after their tapered shape. If you have difficulty finding these, you could substitute fresh (or dried and reconstituted) phở noodles, thus making phở xào. Alternatively, you could stop by a Korean grocery store and get a package of duk (떡), round discs of rice flour cakes (although I would blanch them first to soften).

NOTE: The bánh lọt used in this recipe is not to be confused with the green jelly bánh lọt (also known as chendol in other Southeast Asian cuisines) used in Vietnamese desserts, or chè. They are very similar in shape, although which came first, I can’t be sure…

2. Thick Soy Sauce: Definitely not the “soy sauce” that typically comes to mind, thick soy sauce is made of mostly molasses and is a very viscous, dark colored fluid. I buy the one from Koon Chun which is also a popular brand for hoisin sauce, but be sure to read the label! I’ve been known to accidentally buy the wrong product… all of their jars have the same yellow labels and differ only in the text (all written in the same red capitalized letters).

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 15-ounce package of bánh lọt (or other rice noodles)

1 tablespoon olive oil + 1-2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic oil)

2 eggs

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons thick soy sauce

Black pepper

Soy sauce or seasoning sauce to taste (I sprinkle in about 1 to 2 teaspoons and let the diners add more to their liking)

Scant handful of green onions, chopped

If your noodles were in the refrigerator, pierce the packaging and microwave for 1-2 minutes to help soften (and separate) the noodles. If your noodles are fresh from the store, skip this step.

Noodles - a bit clumpy

Noodles – still a bit clumpy

In a large pot (or wok), heat the oil on medium-high heat and saute the garlic. If using pre-made garlic oil, make sure the garlic bits do not get too dark. Toss in the noodles and stir vigorously to separate.

Drizzle!

Drizzle!

Drizzle in the thick soy sauce, keeping the noodles moving so the molasses does not burn.

Egg Time!

Egg Time!

I usually just crack the eggs directly into the pot and stir to mix, but you could also beat the eggs in a small bowl first and then add them to the noodles. Stir to combine and coat the noodles in egg.

Nice and evenly distributed!

Nice and evenly distributed!

Grind in some fresh cracked pepper and sprinkle with soy sauce or seasoning sauce. I also like to sprinkle in a bit of garlic salt for extra flavor. It’s OK to prepare this a bit under-seasoned so the diner could season to taste.

Color!

Color!

Add the chopped green onions. You’ll want to just wilt them. When the moisture from the eggs has cooked off, remove from the heat and serve. You could whip up a quick “sauce” of soy sauce and sriracha for a spicy kick to serve alongside the noodles.

This recipe yields 2-3 servings.

Optional: bánh lọt xào is often prepared with bean sprouts. Martin isn’t a big fan so we did not include them here. If you plan to use them, be sure to pluck off the roots and rinse the sprouts in cool water. Drain well and add them at the beginning when you first toss the noodles with the oil.

I love the chewy texture and fun-to-eat shape of the bánh lọt, and I enjoy making this dish at home as it can be too greasy when prepared at Vietnamese-Chinese restaurants. This quick and easy recipe is also a great way to participate in Meatless Mondays (although you could easily add some slices of beef, chicken, or even seafood for endless variations on this dish). Enjoy!

Meatless Monday: Quinoa, Kale, and Tofu

Main Dishes, Recipes

Happy Meatless Monday! Last week, we posted this photo (via Facebook and Twitter) of our delicious vegan dinner — here’s the recipe if you want to make it at home.

The finished product

Ingredients (for 2 servings):

1/2 cup of quinoa

1 cup of vegetable broth

1 bunch of kale

Minced garlic

Minced ginger (optional)

Salt & pepper, to taste

1/2 brick organic firm tofu

1 Tbsp mirin

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1/2 Tbsp sesame oil

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a seed rich in protein and high in fiber. Commonly used as a substitute for grain, quinoa is actually not a grain at all and is related to Swiss chard and spinach! It’s easy to prepare – just rinse, drain, and throw in a pot with water in a 1 part quinoa to 2 part liquid ratio. However, we prefer to use vegetable broth instead of water for added flavor. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes until all of the liquid has been absorbed. The quinoa should have a firm but slightly chewy texture when done. It is deceptively filling, so we abide by the serving size of 1/4 cup (dry) per person.

Kale is a beautiful dark green leafy vegetable rich in vitamins A, C, and K. I’ve always been mystified by how to cook it (it’s not a common ingredient in Asian cuisine), but we put together a sauteed kale dish that turned out similar in flavor and texture to the sauteed gai lan in Chinese restaurants. First rinse the kale leaves under cold running water. Cut or shred into pieces (I used scissors and sliced every inch or so along the leafy part and every 1/2 inch along the stem part). In a pot, heat a bit of olive oil. Toss in the kale. It’ll look ambitious at first, but trust me, it wilts down.

Overflowing (with healthy goodness)!

Season with salt and pepper (we used Himalayan pink salt which adds a more delicate flavor and interesting crunch). Turn the kale; otherwise the leaves at the bottom start to burn while the leaves on top have yet to wilt. Add some minced ginger (or ginger paste!) and minced garlic for flavor. Serve the kale, juices included, over the bed of quinoa.

I found a brick of “high protein, super firm” organic tofu at Trader Joes. This is PERFECT for stirfrying as the tofu brick is very dense and is less prone to breaking while cooking. If you can’t get your hands on this super (firm) tofu, any firm or extra firm will do. Be sure to pat dry with a paper towel after removing from the package. Cut into small bite-sized cubes and throw into a bowl.

This is actually a whole brick, but we ended up with lots of leftovers..

In a smaller bowl, mix together the mirin, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Pour over the tofu cubes and toss to coat. Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil in a pan. When the pan is hot, add the tofu cubes including any remaining “marinade” and let it fry/simmer until warm. Serve on top of the kale and quinoa. Enjoy!