End of Summer Ratatouille

Whenever I find myself loaded with tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant and summer squash this is what I make. Ratatouille (rat-a-too-ee) is an old classic French vegetable stew that was made popular again a few years back by the Pixar movie of the same name. If you haven’t seen the film, I suggest you do – perhaps tomorrow over a day old dish of this stew.

The theme of the film is that anyone can cook and make delicious food with high quality, yet simple ingredients. That’s awfully similar to the premise of Everyday Chef, isn’t it? Also, the longer the vegetables meld together and break down, the better this dish gets – so I wasn’t joking on trying it the next day. It’s great cold and I often eat it simply on a piece of toasted bread.

I know I’m bringing this to you a bit late in the season and for that I apologize. During the past few weeks much of my time was focused on our Twilight in the Meadow fundraiser, which helps raise money to continue our programs like Everyday Chef. But I saw a ton of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant thriving at the market this past weekend, so it is still very much possible to make. You might be out of luck on the summer squash at this point, but just increase the amount of the other ingredients and use varying colors, or throw in a few others, such as mushrooms or even potato.

I’ve seen ratatouille made many ways. But my favorite is by roasting. I think it’s also the least fussiest method.

Gather your veggies. Peel and slice as needed. I like to do a rough chop and keep everything similar in size. I don’t bother with a fancy presentation. Often you’ll see ratatouille plated with everything sliced paper thin in circles, all the same in size, and arranged perfectly together. But unless you’re trying to impress or are running a restaurant, I don’t think you don’t need to bother. This will still look, and more importantly, taste, good.

 Arrange everything but the tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with of oil, thyme leaves and a few pinches of salt. Roast at 425 for 30-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook down the tomatoes on top of the stove in a little heated oil, garlic and red pepper flakes over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally and throw in some salt to taste. When they’re close to done and at a sauce-like consistency, add in a few splashes of red wine vinegar and the basil.

When the veggies are ready – they should look something like this, maybe a little less charred – toss them together with the tomatoes.

You could eat this all by itself topped with some grated Parmesan. But I love to serve it over polenta. Remember, it gets better the next day and the day after that. Bon Apetit.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • 3 medium onions
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 3 zucchini or summer squash
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • red wine vinegar

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 425.
  2. Peel veggies as needed (especially if your eggplant is not super fresh) and roughly chop into pieces about the same size.
  3. Place all the veggies but the tomatoes on a baking sheet with 1/2 of the garlic, the thyme leaves, a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt.
  4. In a medium sized pot heat a couple tablespoons of oil and then add in the remaining garlic and red pepper flakes. Let cook for a minute, then add in the tomatoes and season with salt.
  5. Allow to cook down over low-medium heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally and being careful not to let the tomatoes splatter.
  6. When nearly done, add in the red wine vinegar and basil.
  7. When the veggies are done roasting, toss with the tomatoes and serve. Top with Parmesan if you’d like. Enjoy by itself or over polenta.

Squash Pasta in Sage Butter Sauce

Ever have an amazing dish out at a restaurant and then try to recreate it again at home? I do all the time. Sometimes I’m successful and other times not so much. But what I’ve learned is that it’s all about the flavors.

One of my favorite meals was in Florence, Italy when I was traveling abroad a few years ago. It was squash filled ravioli. I couldn’t remember much more than that later on when I thought about it again at home. But I knew it included winter squash, pasta, and cheese. And that was enough to get me going.

To become a better cook that’s exactly what you need to do – pay attention to flavors and do some experimenting. Mastering techniques is important too, but what isn’t is feeling like you need to follow a recipe exactly. This and this are two excellent resources to help you think more about flavor, less about following a recipe word for word, and on your way to making a dish your own.

Eventually, I found that what I was looking for was sage, particularly – fried sage leaves. When paired with almost any kind of winter squash it’s an amazing combination. And a little butter makes it even better. Now, I pair sage and squash all the time. Maybe too much. But they’re flavors I love and this quick pasta dish proves why.

I had an acorn squash so that’s what I went with this time. Butternut, pumpkin, hubbard – whatever you like or already have will work great. Don’t be afraid to try some new squashes you might encounter at the market. Just ask a farmer if you’re not sure what they taste like.

With an acorn squash, I use a knife to slice off the skin because a peeler is just too ineffective. But first I cut it in half and scoop out the seed.

Then I cut the squash into 1/2 inch cubes, throw in a baking dish with a little oil and salt and get it roasting in the oven. Because the squash is in small pieces, it’s going to cook pretty quickly – about 20-25 minutes at 425F.

Try to control yourself from eating it just like this when it’s done. Or better yet, roast a couple of squashes at once and have some for snacking or ready to go for another meal.

Meanwhile, get a pot of water boiling for the pasta. Add in the pasta and a good amount of salt when the water is boiling. Drain when al dente, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.

Now wipe out your pot and melt some butter. We want to brown it, so that means letting it cook until all of the foam subsides. In the process, the butter acquires a really nice nutty flavor.

When it’s starting to brown, add in a handful of sage. Cook for just a couple of minutes then remove the leaves from the pot and toss in some sliced garlic. Again, control yourself. Those sage leaves are quite tempting, aren’t they?

Fortunately, dinner is just a couple of minutes away now.

After the garlic starts to just slightly brown, pour in a cup of the reserved pasta water, the pasta, squash and some grated Parmesan. Toss together and let cook a minute or so until the water is mostly gone.

Crumble the sage leaves over top, add in some pumpkin seeds if you like, and get eating.

Squash Pasta in Sage Butter Sauce

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 medium-large winter squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb pasta
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small bunch of fresh sage leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
  • shaved parmesan for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 425
  2. Halve the squash. Scoop out the seeds and peel the skin.
  3. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes, toss with the olive oil, some salt and pepper.
  4. Roast for 25 minutes or until tender.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
  6. Salt the water and cook the pasta until al dente.
  7. Drain, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.
  8. In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat and let cook until foam subsides and it begins to brown.
  9. Toss in the sage, cook for two minutes and remove from the pot.
  10. Add in the garlic, cook until just starting to brown then add 1 cup reserved pasta water, the cooked pasta and squash, and the grated parmesan.
  11. Toss together and cook until the water is mostly gone and a light sauce remains.
  12. Serve with crumbled sage leaves, the seeds and additional cheese. Use the other cup of the pasta water when heating up leftovers, if there are any.

Sweet and Sour Brussels Sprouts

This is the recipe – and cooking technique – that will change minds about Brussels sprouts. At Thanksgiving dinner it won over my girlfriend’s mother, who previously insisted that the mini cabbage-like vegetable was gross. A short roast in the oven beautifully caramelizes the sprouts while locking in flavor and nutrition – unlike boiling, or even steaming. You don’t want to miss out on the multitude of vitamins here. I also find that with roasting they’re less likely to turn to mush and bring back unpleasant childhood vegetable memories.

Farmers sell Brussels sprouts either right on the stalk – which is kind of fun to take home – or already sliced off. Either way, you’ll want to give them a trim off the bottom and if they look like they need it, a peeling of the outer layers. A quick rinse isn’t a bad idea either. Personally, when I’m just making these at home, I don’t go too crazy with cleaning and trimming. Do what makes sense to you.

What really makes this dish work though is that it has all five of the basic tastes at work. Sourness from the vinegar, sweetness from the sugar, umami from the Worcestershire, saltiness from the soy sauce and bitterness from the sprouts themselves.

A good flavor profile and a smart cooking technique will help make just about anything taste great. Try these sprouts as a side at your next holiday dinner.

 

Sweet and Sour Brussels Sprouts

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 6-8 servings, as a side

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed & halved lengthwise, if you’d like
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • kosher salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. roasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Toss Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet with 3 tablespoons of the oil and salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Roast, 20-25 minutes, tossing halfway through, until softened, browned and caramelized.
  4. Whisk vinegar, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and remaining oil in a large bowl.
  5. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss to coat. Transfer to a platter, top with rosemary, the pumpkin seeds and crushed red pepper. Serve warm or at room temp.

Maple Roasted Beets and Oranges

I walked a bunch of food magazines in the store yesterday and had to laugh. In what must be their California based test kitchens, they’re busy cooking with asparagus, peas, bunches of herbs and other warm weather fantasies. In reality – Vermont and probably much of the northern United States –  especially after the winter we’ve had, those foods are at least a month away. By the time they are here, the magazines will probably already be on to tomatoes.

Let’s focus on what’s actually available. The maple sugaring season is just about over (if it’s not already) and that means we have plenty of freshly processed maple syrup. Meanwhile, root vegetables are still lingering about and longing for some creativity. If we borrow some in season citrus from the south, we have plenty of possibilities.

If you’ve roasted root vegetables before, you already know and love the sweet crispy caramelization that happens in the cooking process. Adding maple syrup to the mix might sound a little unnecessary. Yet when you combine it with the bright tartness of roasted oranges, it makes for the perfect balance and for a perfectly timed dish.

You could eat the beets and oranges as is, for a side dish. Or place over greens with a maple balsamic dressing, top with cheese and seeds and have yourself a light and realistic spring dinner.

Maple Roasted Beets and Oranges

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings, as a side or as part of a main dish

Ingredients

  • 3-4 medium beets
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Kosher salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425F.
  2. Slice the ends off the beets, slice in half, then each half into pieces. Place on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil and maple syrup, ginger and salt and pepper.
  3. Roast for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, peel, seed and chop the oranges. After 25 minutes, toss the beets on the sheet with the orange pieces and bake another 20 minutes or until beets are tender and crispy.

Mexican Spaghetti Squash with Tropical Salsa

Winter squash has to be my favorite food of the season, followed up by apples and fresh cranberries. But for the longest time there was one winter squash I never liked, the spaghetti.

For many, the pasta like consistency of cooked spaghetti squash is a welcome alternative to actual pasta. That’s a quality I can appreciate, as it opens the door for creativity. Yet I could never get over its overwhelming blandness. No matter how I cooked and seasoned the squash, it always turned out with zero flavor. And so I wrote it off as the black sheep of the winter squash family.

Until now. Finally, in Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s VeganomiconI found a phenomenal spaghetti squash recipe.  The squash is baked until tender, added to a mildly spicy onion, jalapeno, corn and black bean mixture and then topped with a tomato, avocado and tropical fruit salsa. There are many flavor profiles at play here and they all work. It’s anything but bland.

022

The other great aspect of this dish is that it takes advantage of several foods that are perfectly in season right now in early October, including onions, tomatoes, peppers and corn. Seriously, make this now, before tomatoes and peppers have completely disappeared.

067

As with any dish that requires roasted squash, I suggest taking care of the roasting  in advance. It really simplifies things. Maybe when you’re relaxing the evening before you’d like to use it, just toss the squash in the oven for about an hour.  If you didn’t plan ahead (and I know how that is) and aren’t opposed to the microwave, you could use it to cook the squash a little faster than the oven.

The flavor of the salsa will only get better after chilling, so consider preparing it in advance as well. With the squash and salsa ready to go, this meal could be ready in 20 minutes.

Mexican Spaghetti Squash with Tropical Salsa

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

    • 1 spaghetti squash
For the salsa:
    • 1 cup chopped tomato
    • 1 cup chopped pineapple, mango or papaya
    • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped
    • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, mint or basil or any combo thereof
    • Juice of 1 lime
For the bean mixture:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup red wine or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 1/2 cups black beans (if canned, drained and rinsed)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and place in a baking dish cut side down. Bake until tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes. This step can be done up to 3 days in advance.
  2. In a bowl toss all of the salsa ingredients together. Chill until using, which can be up to 2 days in advance.
  3. Heat the oil a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, jalapeno and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes before adding the spices, salt and wine/broth. Cook another 5 minutes. Add the corn and black beans and simmer over low heat until the liquid has reduced and vegetables are tender.
  4. When squash is finished cooking and cool, use a fork to scrape the strands into the pan. Toss with the bean mixture to combine and allow to heat through if the squash was precooked.
  5. Serve in bowls topped with the salsa.

This recipe was adapted (mostly just the seasonings) from Veganomiconan excellent cookbook and resource for vegan and vegetarian cooking.

Roasting Tips

Here are some Everyday Chef tips for roasting just right!

  1. Cut veggies into similarly-sized chunks.  That way the veggies will be ready at the same time.
  2. Toss veggies with olive oil in a medium or large bowl to coat evenly before spreading out on your roasting pan.
  3. Place veggies in a single layer on the roasting pan so that the heat can cook each piece evenly–go ahead and use two pans if your too crowded on one.
  4. Use a heavy-bottomed cookie sheet or a roasting pan without the rack–either will do!
  5. Stir veggies at least once, approximately half way through the cooking time.

Time-saver tip from the Domestic Diva:  Microwave your veggies, tossed in olive oil (in a glass, microwave safe bowl) for 5-8 minutes, or until half tender.  Then, spread on your pan and roast for 20 to 30 minutes.