Daily Archives: January 17, 2015

  • Recipe and its origin: Ratatouille with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

    Succinctly defined, Ratatouille is a traditional French Provencal vegetable stew.
    But that simplifies this delicious dish, which has a complicated history, carries much debate on its best preparation, and, for many, is most closely associated with the 2007 Disney animated movie which bears its name.

    Ratatouille is all of these things, but, most important, this dish is a crowning glory to several of nature’s tastiest vegetables.

    Let’s start with the name, which is an expressive derivation of the French verb “touiller,” meaning “to stir up.” And Ratatouille is indeed a flavorful stirring up of its primary and standard ingredients: tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, zucchini, eggplant, squash, garlic and a smattering of assorted herbs and spices.

    RATATOUILLE

    (The ingredients should be cooked in batches, then combined)

    ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
    1 medium-size eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
    1/3 clove garlic, minced
    A pinch of salt and a grind of pepper
    * * * *
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    2 yellow squash, cut into ½-inch pieces
    2 zucchini, cut into ½-inch pieces
    1/3 clove garlic, minced
    A pinch of salt and a grind of pepper
    * * * *
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 large onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
    1 bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    1/3 clove garlic, minced
    A pinch of sale and a grind of pepper
    * * * *
    5 tomatoes, finely chopped
    1 cup of fresh basil leaves, shredded and loosely packed
    1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
    1 teaspoon lemon juice

    DIRECTIONS

    Heat the ¼ cup of olive oil, add the eggplant, and cook, stirring over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.
    Add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for another minute
    Spoon the eggplant onto a plate and set aside
    Put 2 tablespoons olive oil into the same pot, add the squash and zucchini, and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.
    Add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for another minute.
    Spoon the squash and zucchini onto a plate and keep aside.
    Put 2 tablespoons olive oil into the same pot. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until softened, about 7-8 minutes.
    Add the remaining garlic, salt and pepper and cook for another minute.
    Add the chopped tomatoes, the reserved, already-cooked vegetables, and the shredded basil.
    Cook about 15 minutes or until the tomatoes have broken down and the vegetables are tender. Stir in the zest and lemon juice.
    If desired, sprinkle a little crumbled goat cheese on top of each serving.

    Ratatouille origin is debatable.

    I tend to look at Ratatouille as a dish with three probable lives. The first is pre-historic, going back to the discovery of fire and the creation of the first liquid-proof vessel. These combined enabled man to cook the first stew, whatever its ingredients might have been at that time.

    We know from culinary history that it didn’t include tomatoes or zucchini, which had yet to find their way into Europe from the Americas. And eggplant, back then, was exclusive to India.

    Nonetheless, there was some sort of stew, and that was a start.

    Next, its second life brought forth Ratatouille as we know it today, created from a proliferation of seasonal vegetables in the Mediterranean. The French claim the full, official name is Ratatouille Nicoise, reflecting a wide belief that the dish originated in Nice in the South of France.

    Curiously, though generally considered a signature Provencal dish, Nice is not geographically in Provence, a little detail that residents elect to overlook. Others claim that Ratatouille might well have come from adjacent parts of Italy and Spain, and, from there, crept into France.

    Finally, and less seriously, Ratatouille gained recognition and some popularity as a result of the animated Disney movie of the same name, which debuted in 2007 and won an Oscar the following year. Though this introduced Ratatouille to the less-food-conscious, it’s odd that the recipe and end-product featured in the film, and created by renowned consulting chef Thomas Keller, was far more elaborate, refined and time-consuming than the peasant-based real thing,

    Nonetheless, the movie served to promote this deserving dish.

    Beyond its history, there is endless debate on how to make a traditional Ratatouille. There are three schools of thought on the subject. One, saute all the vegetables together. Two, layer then bake them like a casserole (Julia Child’s preference). And three, saute each ingredient separately, then combine and simmer them together.

    As the accompanying recipe shows, I prefer the latter. I find a comforting vote of confidence in this technique from noted chef Joel Robouchon who wrote in his cookbook, “The secret of a good Ratatouille is to cook the vegetables separately so each will taste truly of itself.” In other words, you will savor individual flavors and still enjoy the complexity of their combination.

    Usually, Ratatouille is served as a side dish, but topping pasta with it makes a good, hearty meal. Also, a generous serving, either hot or cold, makes a nice lunch, accompanied with good French bread and perhaps a small green salad. For some added zip, you could sprinkle the top of each serving with crumbled goat cheese. But, however you serve it, I can think of no better way to enjoy vegetables.

    Source

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    Rating: 4.3/10 (103 votes cast)
    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +4 (from 28 votes)
    Succinctly defined, Ratatouille is a traditional French Provencal vegetable stew. But that simplifies this delicious dish, which has a complicated history, carries much debate on its best preparation, and, for many, is most closely associated with the 2007 Disney animated movie... 
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  • Report from the frontline of the olive harvest in Italy

    The olive branch may traditionally be associated with peace, but in a small corner of Abruzzo, Italy, this noble crop is also the harbinger of warmth, vitamin C and a hearty dose of antioxidants.

    I’ve come to the outskirts of Casoli, a beautiful rustic area in one of Italy’s most unexplored regions, where the centuries-old cultivation of olives has taken on a new and exciting twist, in the form of tea.

    Perched precariously on a sheer cliff overlooking a rugged valley and flanked by slate-grey mountains sporting a year-round dusting of snow, the ‘headquarters’ of Mirabilia Olive Leaf Tea is a rustic Abruzzan house nestled amid thousands of olive trees, encircled by creeping kiwi vines and sprays of fragrant wild herbs. Here, organic olive leaves, traditionally used in antibacterial and antimalarial remedies, are hand-picked, dried and crushed to form a sweet, coppery brew that is high in antioxidants and vitamin C, free from caffeine and tannin, and subtly fragrant.

    Women from the local community gather regularly to transform this ancient tree into a warming, healthy liquor by meticulously stripping the branches of their leaves, sometimes combining them with the fat, glowing pomegranates that grow wild by the roadside, or fragrant shards of organic lemon peel and furls of local wild mint.

    This revival of tradition makes perfect sense in a region where the olive has been cultivated for more than 2000 years and is still integral to the local economy. During late October, all energy is devoted to the harvest, a physically demanding endeavour that, predictably, is accomplished with apparent ease by the sprightly local women with their special gloves and baskets but which leaves foreigners sweating in the sun. Olives are raked from the trees using giant combs, or shaken from the branches on to huge green nets, which are then gathered up and taken to the local co-operative for pressing into a piquant extra-virgin oil to be drizzled liberally over the local cuisine.

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 4.5/10 (66 votes cast)
    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +3 (from 23 votes)
    The olive branch may traditionally be associated with peace, but in a small corner of Abruzzo, Italy, this noble crop is also the harbinger of warmth, vitamin C and a hearty dose of antioxidants. I’ve come to the outskirts of Casoli, a beautiful rustic area in one of Italy’s... 
    Read More →
  • Is this olive oil the most political food in the world?

    Manal Ramadan founded Zaytoun after seeing the problems Palestinian farmers faced in getting a fair price for their olive oil. Olive oil was Zaytoun’s first product – 10 years later it has won several awards and remains its flagship.

    It’s been said that olive oil from the West Bank is the most political food in the world, and I think I’d agree. Zaytoun started in 2004 as a volunteer-led initiative by a group of friends inspired by a trip to Palestine. We had spent time with olive farmers, enjoying their wonderful hospitality and tasting some of the most delicious olive oil we’d ever had. But their livelihoods were being threatened because they had to sell below the cost of production due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation. Zaytoun was an opportunity to help.

    One of the biggest challenges is the restriction on the movement of people and goods. Olive, almond, herb and grain producers are located around Nablus, Jenin and Salfit, and the medjool date producers around Jericho. Most goods are shipped from the port of Haifa, about an hour’s drive away from most of the producers, but in reality it takes several hours, sometimes days, to get there because vehicles are forced to make big detours to go through the checkpoints, and pallets have to be stacked far lower than capacity to allow sniffer dogs to jump over them. For the farmers, it would probably be faster to travel to London than to Haifa.

    Farming is difficult everywhere, but few places have the additional challenges of land seizures, illegal settlements, difficulty of movement and farmers losing land or being unable to access land due to the separation barrier. The devastation in Gaza last year also resulted in curfews, house searches, raids and arrests in the West Bank.

    Manal Ramadan: ‘For thousands of farming families in Palestine, fair trade has given them the security of knowing they can sell their crops for a price guaranteed to be above the cost of production.’ Photograph: Claudia Janke/Guardian

    But for thousands of farming families in Palestine, fair trade has given them the security of knowing they can sell their crops for a price guaranteed to be above the cost of production. Farmer co-ops receive a premium that funds community projects, and increased demand for products traditionally produced by women’s co-ops has given them scope to develop business skills and work strategically.

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 4.7/10 (40 votes cast)
    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +9 (from 15 votes)
    Manal Ramadan founded Zaytoun after seeing the problems Palestinian farmers faced in getting a fair price for their olive oil. Olive oil was Zaytoun’s first product – 10 years later it has won several awards and remains its flagship. It’s been said that olive oil from... 
    Read More →