Ratatouille

Ratatouille Recipe

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
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Ingredients

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil, plus 1 Tbsp for topping
  • 1.5 cups passata
  • 1/2 cup basil, chopped
  • 1 small to medium green zucchini, sliced thin
  • 1 small to medium yellow zucchini, sliced thin
  • 1 small to medium eggplant, sliced thin
  • 3 medium tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1-2 Tbsps pesto
  • 1/4 cup Garlic and Herb Boursin cheese, crumbled for topping

Directions

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Mince the garlic and dice the onion. Heat a cast iron pan over medium high heat, adding the olive oil. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until the onion has softened and the garlic is fragrant. Add the passata and stir until the mixed consistently and the passata is heated through. Remove from the heat and sprinkle the basil overtop, reserving 1 Tbsp of basil for topping at the end. Arrange the vegetables on the sauce, alternating between the different vegetables (photo above was eggplant, tomato, yellow zucchini, green zucchini). Drizzle with pesto. Cover the pan wither either an oven-ready lid, or with tin foil. Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, then remove foil and bake for another 10-20 minutes, until vegetables have reached desired level of doneness. Remove from the oven, top with olive oil, cheese and basil, then serve.

And now for the details…

I am a bit of a Disney freak. I. Love. Disney. Cannot help myself. We have no kids, and yet I have seen pretty much every Disney cartoon or animated movie ever released. And am emotionally affected by said movies. (Up! Who wrote this screenplay? I am a sobbing mess every time I watch it… within 10 minutes)

And Ratatouille? Well. It was a Disney movie and about a rat who is obsessed with cooking perfectly blended ingredients. I could picture the harmony Remy refers to as he contemplates the flavour combinations that not only match, but bring the dish to life.

And after having watched that movie and having loved it… over a decade ago… I still had not made ratatouille. It was time.

Let’s get to cooking.

We will be cooking everything in a cast iron pan, which will allow an easy transition from stove to oven. If you do not have a cast iron pan, use an oven ready pan, which will work just as well. Not sure if your pan is oven ready? Typically it would have said so on the label, and may even note it on the bottom of the pan. But most pans that have no plastic or rubber pieces and are revited, rather than welded, should be able to withstand the heat of shifting into the oven.

Let’s start with the onions and garlic, which we will sauté in the olive oil until the onions have softened and the garlic is fragrant. Try to avoid cooking too long and caramelizing the onions or garlic.

While you are waiting for the onions and garlic to cook, slice the rest of the veggies into thin slices, consistent in size, and set them to the side.

Add the tomato passata to the pan, and stir until the garlic and onion have been thoroughly mixed in and the passata has heated until just bubbling. Add salt and pepper to the sauce to your taste. Remove from the heat and sprinkle the tomato sauce with the basil, reserving 1 Tbsp of the basil to the side for garnishing the ratatouille when it is done.

Next, we are going to add our veggies directly on top of the tomato sauce in our pan, keeping with a consistent pattern to increase both the visual appeal of the dish, but also allow us a nice bite of all four veggies in one once the dish is cooked and ready. I chose to go with the closest to ROYGBIV as I could with my colour distribution, going with tomato (R), zucchini (Y), zucchini (G), and eggplant (V), and I could see expanding this out to include the rest of the spectrum with, say, orange bell peppers (O), or even stretching this recipe with purple potatoes (I), but I stuck with some of the tried and true veggies in this recipe.

Extra veggies in the background? Yep. Just meant a second pan of ‘touille!

Next is our baking process. Before moving on, I drizzled some pesto over the ratatouille to emphasize the basil flavour. Cover the pan with tin foil or an oven ready lid, and place it in the oven for around 40 minutes. Depending on how thickly or thinly you have stacked your vegetables, you may need to monitor the cooking process at the 30 minute mark to check for doneness. The vegetables should be mostly done, but not completely done yet (the eggplant will have a bit of bounce left to it). At this point, remove the lid or tin foil and allow the ratatouille to cook for another 10-20 minutes, until the vegetables have caramelized slightly, and are completely done. Remove the pan from the oven, drizzle with the remaining olive oil, crumble with some of the Boursin on top, and sprinkle the reserved basil overtop, then serve! From our experience, it goes great with barbecued salmon or chimichurri flank steak tacos (you better believe those recipes are coming!), but this dish is so delicious, it could make up a meal of its own with some crusty bread, or pair with a whole selection of dishes!

Happy eating.

Cocoa Butter Banana Bread

Banana Bread

  • Servings: 1 loaf
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup cocoa butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup vanilla sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup flax, ground
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 oz. dark chocolate, broken into small chunks
  • 1 cup pecans, crushed

Directions

Mash the bananas with a fork until mostly smooth. Mix the melted cocoa butter, bananas, eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, then stir in the flax and salt. Stir together the dry and wet ingredients until the dry ingredients have just been moistened. Stir in the chocolate and pecans, then pour into a prepared 5″x9″ loaf pan. Bake for 75 minutes at 325ºF until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

And now for the details…

Before getting into the full story, I should probably mention that this banana loaf was much more in the crumby cake side of texture as opposed to the more typical ultra moist banana bread. This is a texture I prefer, but if you like the super smooshy type of banana bread, this is not the loaf for you.

As far as where my inspiration came from, it was from, as usual, meandering around my grocery store. I randomly found some raw cocoa butter on sale. I stood in front of the shelf for quite awhile with the bag in my hand. What was I going to use it for? No idea. It’s supposed to be really good for you. But what are these purported health benefits of this fat compared to most others? And how would I use it? I think I melt it down as a fat replacement in meals? Surely I can figure something out. Hadn’t I heard of people putting it into smoothies at the very least? If I used it for cooking, would it make everything taste like chocolate? But most importantly it’s on sale… how could I say no?

Well, I took it home… and it sat sad and lonely in my pantry closet for months. So yeah, it was on sale, and I bought it, and then I almost forgot about the gorram thing.

So months went by and one day I had some uber ripe bananas that clearly needed a home in a baked good. Which I suppose is not saying a lot for me… once a banana has one brown spot on it, it’s too ripe for fresh eating, and is officially a baking banana. I do thoroughly enjoy me some banana baked goods, however, and a good banana bread is a pretty delicious snacking option. And then, I remembered *ba-ba-da-baaaaaa* cocoa butter! Now could be its big break!

Looking into the cocoa butter since I bought it, the health benefits that I’d thought I’d heard or read about seemed… weak. Does it provide a good fat source for folks functioning off a keto diet? It sure does… like pretty much any fat source out there. Is it quite high in phytosterols, which have claim to lowering LDL cholesterol? Yes it is… like many vegetable oils. But… I don’t follow a keto diet, and while I try to maintain an overall healthy and balanced diet, phytosterol intake is not something I am monitoring. Sure hope this stuff is delicious, cause that’s the main thing I am now focused on. Worse case, I suppose, I could slather it on my body instead and have an expensive, but delicious smelling moisturizer!

Let’s get to cooking.

My mistake when making this was to start with mashing the bananas. What I really should have started with was getting the melting process of the cocoa butter going. Cocoa butter is clearly a winner from a shelf stability perspective. It’s melting point is higher than coconut oil or butter, and it takes quite bit longer to melt down to a useable liquid than most other fat options I have used. One of my favourite parts, though: when a little bit of the melted butter smashed onto my hands while stirring, and I rubbed it into my skin instead of wiping it off. Seriously, great moisturizer if nothing else.

Before we get to the next step, preheat the oven to 325ºF.

Once you have the butter melted and the bananas mashed, mix the two together, than add in the eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. I used vanilla sugar in the recipe, which I have in my pantry by throwing a used vanilla pod into some sugar in a hermetic glass jar in the pantry. Regular sugar would do just just fine, just increase your vanilla addition to about 1.5 teaspoons.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, flax, and salt. You can buy flax pre-ground, but I buy the flax whole and grind it just before you use it. I have a separate coffee grinder that I keep specifically for grinding seeds and spices, which I used to grind the flax.

Next, mix the dry and wet ingredients until they are just combined. Next is to add the chocolate and pecans, and stir into the batter until fairly evenly mixed in.

Grease the loaf pan, and line it with parchment paper. Turn the batter out into the prepared pan, and place into the preheated oven. Bake for around 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the loaf comes out clean.

Remove the pan from the oven, let it cool, then cut and enjoy!

Happy eating.

A Summer Risotto, with Zucchini and Pesto

Zucchini Pesto Risotto

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
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Ingredients

  • 1.5 shallots, minced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 4 cups turkey broth
  • 1.5 cups arborio rice
  • 1 medium zucchini, spiralized
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp pesto
  • Fresh basil, chopped, for garnish

Directions

Sauté the shallots and garlic in the olive oil until fragrant, but not yet brown. Add the rice, and stir constantly until the rice has started to become translucent, 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and stir continuously until the liquid has mostly been absorbed. Add the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring regularly between each pour, and waiting until the liquid has been mostly absorbed between adds. Once the rice has reached almost the desired consistency (~3 cups of broth), add the zucchini and stir gently into the risotto. Add the remaining broth in the same manner as the rest, until the desired consistency is reached, then remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese. Turn out into a serving platter, top with the basil and pesto, and serve.

And now for the details…

I love risotto. It is one of my favourite dishes. But I don’t make it often. Not because it’s difficult, but because it’s a bit demanding. Seriously, talk about high maintenance. It requires regular attention from the moment you start cooking, needing to add the liquid bit by bit, and stir regularly to ensure you don’t end up with a layer of dried or burnt rice coating the bottom of the pot. And because you add the liquid gradually, the cooking time is usually 20-30 minutes of unceasing hovering like a helicopter mom to ensure the result is as desired. But that result? Pure deliciousness. A creamy, lustrous texture, with tiny “popping” bites of rice grain centres.

Risotto seems to go great with vegetables. And for this particular recipe, I had some nice zucchini in the fridge that seemed to be calling to be added. To bump the flavour up even more, I chose to top this off with some pesto (bought, I regret to say, I got a bit lazy with that one) and some fresh basil.

Let’s get to cooking. We will start by heating the broth. In a small to medium pot, heat your broth on low heat and hold it on low heat for the duration of the cooking. I used turkey broth, since I has some homemade broth in the freezer, and I find that turkey broth adds additional richness to the risotto. But a chicken broth would work, or a vegetable broth if you would like to make this a vegetarian dish.

Once the broth is heating on the stove, mince the garlic and shallots, and spiralize your zucchini. Set the zucchini aside, and add the garlic and shallots to a second pot, with the oil, on medium heat. Stir until fragrant and the shallots have slightly softened. Then, add the arborio rice and stir. Continue to cook and stir until the majority of the rice kernels have turned translucent, with just a bit of opaqueness in the middle of the kernel, about 1-2 minutes. Why do we cook the rice dry before adding our liquid? From the research I have done, it is to end up with a slightly skin around the rice kernel, to ensure the rice maintains a bit of that “bite”, instead of a mushy porridge-like consistency. To be honest, I have never tried risotto without doing this step, so I am not entirely sure the overall effect on the dish if I skipped it.

Next, add the wine and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. After the wine, we will add the broth bit by bit (about 1/2 cup at a time), stirring between each addition. Do not make the next addition until the liquid has been almost completely absorbed by the rice from the previous addition.

Scrape the rice on the sides of the pot down regularly, to ensure all the rice kernels are being cooked rather than dried out. Once you are nearing the end of your broth (around 1 cup left), taste test the rice to check the consistency. I like a bit of bite to my risotto, so I do not add all the liquid. But if you prefer a creamier texture, continue to add more broth until just before your desired consistency. When you are nearing the end of the cooking, with just a bit more bite than you would like, add the zucchini, and stir.

The zucchini will cook and soften quite quickly. Add a bit more broth if needed and pull the risotto off the heat. Add the shredded parmesan and stir well until the parmesan is melted and consistently mixed into the risotto.

Turn the risotto out into a serving platter, and top with you pesto. I was lazy this time around and used a pesto I got from my local Italian grocer. But there are plenty of recipes out there for fairly simple pestos, with basil, garlic, olive oil, parmesan, salt, and pine nuts.

After topping the risotto with the pesto, sprinkle with the fresh, chopped basil, and serve.

Happy eating.