Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Once upon a time before I was married I travelled to France and had my first culinary experience with Ratatouille. I loved it, it was a perfect lunch served at room temperature in the heat of Nice, but I had no idea then that I would be making it for the rest of my life! That is because the same dish in Italy is known as Peperonata, and it was a mainstay of Adriana's kitchen, particularly as the summer morphed into fall and the vegetables became overly plentiful. Put another way, what do you do with all those zucchini? We have always grown our own vegetables, although eggplant proves very difficult (read impossible) to produce in this distinctly non-mediteranean climate. I do make this dish all year round, though, and if I don't have the ingredients in the garden, I purchase them. This is a vegetarian stew, easy to make and delicious served hot or at room temperature, as a main or as a side.
Goes well with fish or chicken, summer grills or winter dishes.
Assemble the vegetables. Adriana used whatever she had, as follows:
Peppers, any colour or mixed. (Hence the name--Peperonata.)
Onions, 1 or 2 big ones.
Tomatoes, 3 or 4 (or 1 large tin Italian peeled Plum tomatoes with juice.)
Get a good handful of Basil, some Parsley, and a few cloves of garlic.
Now stop and admire the beauty of these--the eggplant with their shiny purple skins, the green zucchini, the orange-red tomatoes. Gorgeous! Maybe you should paint them instead of cooking them. Oh, sorry. Just an aside.
Get out a good-sized heavy pot with a lid.
Chop up all the vegetables, not too small, maybe about 2 in. chunks.
Put a drizzle of oil in the bottom of the pot and add the vegetables, the raw ones first,including chopped garlic, as much as you like. Cook and stir a bit and add the canned tomatoes if using. (You might have enough ripe fresh tomatoes.) Add some chopped Basil,and parsley if you like.
Cook and stir until the veggies are soft, and salt to taste.
Adriana cooked this in a cast-iron pot on a wood stove which I swear imparts a special flavour I have never been able to replicate. She would cook the Peperonata until the vegetables were pretty much indistinguishable.
I cook it a bit less than that, and you should take it off the heat when it looks and tastes the way you want it to.
Serve it hot or at room temperature. Adriana always topped it with a good handful of grated Montasio (or Parmigiano), which looks and tastes wonderful and may be the only thing distinguishing this from Ratatouille.
Garnish the serving dish with more Basil.
This is great taken for a picnic, too. Travels well.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Here's a colourful cold salad that makes a great antipasto all year round, or a lunch or side dish. Years ago, after sampling fried Calamari for the first time in a fishing village in Italy, I knew I was going to have to learn to clean them myself when I returned to Canada. An Italian friend was more than happy to show me how, and I think of Antonietta every time I do this job. It's not difficult, but it takes time.
I'm happy to report that I have now found a source of already cleaned squid, which makes the whole process, whether you're frying them or making this cold salad, a cinch!
I hope you, too, can be so lucky.
Again, I cannot give you amounts. Use as much calamari as you think you'll need for the number you're serving, and whether or not you're serving this as a main dish at lunch or as an antipasto. It looks great on a buffet, and leftovers taste even better the next day.
Cut the cleaned squid into rings about 1/2 inch wide. If there are tentacles, leave them whole. When a pot of salted water has come to the boil, drop in the cut-up calamari and leave them in for no more than 30 seconds, then remove to a plate or bowl with a slotted spoon. Leave them to cool.
While they're cooling, mince a clove or two of garlic and a shallot or two. Put these into the bottom of the bowl or dish in which you will be serving the salad. Now cut up and add a ripe tomato or two, a sweet red pepper (raw), a bunch of parsley and several leaves of basil.(Some recipes call for black olives and scallions or a red onion finely diced.) Now add the cooled calamari and toss together. Add the juice of one lemon and a squirt of red wine vinegar. Add some good olive oil and salt to taste. Some of you will want to add cilantro instead of parsley. Go ahead.
Give it all a good stir and taste. Adjust the salt, vinegar, lemon juice etc. to suit your palate. Remember that it will be much more flavourful once it has had time to sit, at room temperature, so that the flavours can blend before you serve it.