Anyone CAN cook…

So admit it… you had no idea what ratatouille was until Pixar introduced us to that adorable movie about it. At least, I didn’t. I have a particular soft spot for the film as I first saw it with my little brother Ben on one of our ritual sibling date nights (back when he still thought I was cool). Afterwards, we went to Red Robin (his pick) and I paid… hmph, now that he’s taller than I am, it’s time for payback.

After the movie though, I started seeing ratatouille everywhere! A classic Mediterranean dish, ratatouille is not only flavorful but really healthy (vegan) and easy to make. I love all the vegetables that go into it: eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. A simple dish like this does indeed prove that it’s true, ‘Anyone CAN cook!’ (baking, however, is still strictly for the pros).

{veggie bellybuttons}

a

{bell pepper confetti}

This dish also tastes great both hot and at room temperature (even cold) which makes for nice leftovers or packed lunch. My version is the traditional rustic dish, but to see the ‘movie’ version look at this cute take on Smitten Kitchen. I may have to make it with my brother next time I’m home.

Ratatouille

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium eggplant, medium diced with skin on
  • ½ teaspoon fresh or dried thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon fresh or dried rosemary
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 2 zucchini squash, diced
  • 1 yellow squash, diced
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

(1)  Set a large 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and garlic to the pan. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes.
(2)  Add the eggplant, thyme, and rosemary to the pan. Drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is partially cooked, about 5 minutes.
(3)  Add the diced bell pepper, zucchini, squash and garlic. Drizzle over another tablespoon of olive oil and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
(4)  Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper, to taste (about 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper for me), and cook for a final 5 minutes.
(5) Stir well to blend and serve over a bed of cooked couscous or quinoa, either hot or at room temperature.
 

Note: Make sure your pan is large enough. I may or may not have had to divide my ratatouille halfway through cooking because my pan was overcrowded (ok, I definitely did). You want the vegetables to lightly sauté, not steam.

Makes 6 servings

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Italian tragedy… NYC comedy

Once upon a time, there lived a lovely maiden with raven hair and rosy cheeks (I’m talking about me here). This maiden liked to eat and cook or better yet, eat while cooking. One glorious semester her dreams came true when she found herself in the land of milk and honey and arancini a.k.a. SICILY. There she devoured such morsels as this…

and kissed every toad/blood orange in sight…

All was wonderful in the kingdom of Sicily until one dark and stormy night. That evening, the maiden and her fellow cooker-eaters embarked upon a Sicilian cooking class. All seemed well. The students were adorned in matching aprons as they prepared the menu rich with authentic Sicilian specialties such as Pasta alla Norma and sweet cannolis.

But all was not well. Soon the students realized that their matching aprons were actually uniforms for labor, as their cooking class turned into a Sicilian sweatshop. Put to work, their hands burned from squeezing salty eggplant and brows sweat with the piping of every pastry shells (Disclaimer: Any similarity to actual personsliving or dead, is purely coincidental).

At the end of the 3 hour “cooking class” (slave drive), the exhausted maiden sat down to a much deserved dinner only to find… there was not enough food for everyone. The evil slave-drivers had not prepared for there to be enough food for all the hardworking sweaty servants. Suddenly… the demure maiden became very impatient and hangry (hungry + angry) with rage. For everyone knows you don’t stand between an American maiden and her pasta. From that day on, she cursed the day she ever made PASTA ALLA NORMA.

Almost 3 years later, the maiden found herself in yet another amazing yet strange land where the people walk very fast and like to nosh on round bread with a hole in the middle. Yet the curse of Norma still haunted her. Until one fine day, she decided to once again test fate and purchased an eggplant…

40 minutes later, with not a single Sicilian in sight, she had done it. She had made Pasta alla Norma… and it was as Norma had always intended it to be: truly delizioso. The curse had finally been broken. The townspeople of Apt #5 rejoiced as all was right in the land and in their bellies. From that day on, the dish was renamed Pasta alla Margaret after the perseverant maiden who never lost hope when it mattered the most.

Pasta alla Norma

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • kosher or sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups basic tomato sauce, jarred or homemade
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ pound penne pasta
  • about ½ cup fresh ricotta cheese (traditionally: ricotta salata)
  • freshly cracked black pepper

(1)  Slice the eggplant into ½-inch slices and sprinkle both sides generously with salt. Allow to drain in a colander for 15 minutes.
(2)  Rinse the eggplant slices in cold water and pat completely dry on paper towels. Cut into 1-inch cubes.
(3)  Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, then add the eggplant. Sauté the eggplant, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 15 minutes.  Cover the eggplant for 5-7 minutes to cook all the way.
(4)  Once the eggplant is tender and golden brown, add the tomato sauce, chopped garlic and crushed red pepper. Bring to a simmer.
(5)  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Cook pasta according to directions for al dente and drain, reserving ½ cup pasta water.
(6)  Add the pasta to the sauce and toss together. If a bit dry, add the reserved pasta water. 
(7)  Serve on a plate or pasta bowl with a (big) dollop of fresh ricotta (or grated ricotta salata) with freshly cracked black pepper.

Makes 4 servings

And they all lived happily ever after.

The End.