Ratatouille Afternoon

Yesterday was cold and windy. An anomoly day in our late spring. Unsettling and unpredictable. So what did I do? I cooked! And the birds and the wind kept me company.

Disney and his cartoon rats not withstanding, RATATOUILLE has a long history in the annals of cuisine. The exact recipe for this vegetable melange came from the Joy of Cooking, but, this post will give you, instead, my experiences that afternoon.

Ready? Here we go!

The major ingredients:

all the vegetablesOlive oil, eggplant, peppers (they suggested red, I only had orange, what’s in a color), zucchini, onions.

 

First came the eggplant and zucchini. Eggplant has an unusual texture, punky, light-weight, almost like cork. This allows it to soak up all the good juices of the sauce. This recipe called for peeled. The skin is soft and thick, unlike the skin of a potato, which is thin and crispy. Eggplant is filled with tiny seeds. Good thing they are edible, because impossible to get them out!

egg plant

 

At this point I looked out the window to my bird feeder and spotted a canyon towhee. What fun! Unfortunately, several window panes and porch screens got in the way of what I saw. Look close.

canyon toehee

 

Back to the ratatouille. After you peel the eggplant, chop up the zucchini and saute both in olive oil. The zucchini remains, well, zucchini, but the eggplant becomes translucent, almost like my mother’s old-fashioned watermelon pickles, which she stopped making when watermelon rinds became too thin to make good pickles. Can you tell which is the eggplant and which is the zucchini?

closeup egg plant and zucchini

 

Oh, look! It is a feeder full of lesser goldfinches!

goldfinches

 

Back to the ratatouille. After the zucchini and eggplant have cooked, you dump them out of the saute pan into a holding pot and free the saute pan for the next ingredient, chopped onions. My original picture shows red onions for artistic effect, but these are really too strong, so I substituted sweet Walla Walla onions, just so you know:

onion

 

Oh! Is that a Lady Cardinal? I do think it is:

lady cardinal

 

Now, after the onions have become translucent, add the red peppers–pretend these orange ones are red:

gold peppers

 

It is windy today. When I went out to fill the feeder, the wind chimes greeted me with music, and when I stepped back inside, the kitchen was filled with wonderful smells!

windchimes

 

Where was I? Ah, ratatouille. Along with the onion and red (orange) pepper, you need to add some garlic. The recipe calls for three cloves, but I don’t like a lot of garlic, so I’m only adding two. That’s plenty. You don’t have to peel garlic; just whack it with the side of a knife and the skin separates right off. (This is also a picture of my favorite knife).

garlic

 

While the garlic is cooking….oh! The black-headed grosbeaks are back for the summer. I’ve got about six that visit the feeder, along with the doves and sparrows. This one is the boldest:

grosbeak

 

Then you add some thyme. Did you know there are over 400 varieties of thyme? Creeping thyme, wooly thyme, lemon thyme. I don’t have a lot of time, so I add some common garden-variety thyme from my porch pots:

thyme

 

 

A quail! I have dozens that visit the feeder all day long, and they crowd everyone else (well almost everyone else) out of the feeder:

quail standoff

 

After the thyme add some other spices: bay leave and fresh oregano and basil (these last two I got from my food coop basket) and tomatoes. I didn’t have fresh, so I used canned, diced. Just as good. 🙂

tomato and spices

 

What? Yes! I knew I heard Sir Cardinal out there somewhere as well. Always a joy to see him visit:

sir cardinal

 

The final result, after eggplant and zucchini put back in mix and cooked at low for a while to meld the flavors. It tasted wonderful!

entire mix

 

A great way to spend a windy, wild afternoon in the company of good food and good friends.

 

Taming the wild thistle

artichoke

artichoke (Photo credit: wundoroo)

Ah, the mighty artichoke! According to legend, it was created by Zeus when he turned a rejected lover into one.  (Zeus had a habit of doing this).

Upset with the propensity for schools using Native American caricatures as school mascots, the Scottsdale (Arizona) Junior college adopted the artichoke for their mascot. At least their football stars must be healthy.

The artichoke is packed with nutrition, ranking seventh out of the USDA top twenty for  anti-oxident foods. It’s a good source of folate, dietary fiber, and vitamins C and K. Plus, artichokes look cool on the buffet table next to a delectable dip.

Have I convinced you yet?

My goal, when I found two in my coop food basket this week, was to learn how to cook them. And they can be a challenge. They are a thistle, which means the points of the leaves are prickery, hence the scissors; you trim each one.

Then you have to cut off the point. I tried two knives and found a serrated one worked best.

shot with teas

See all the pink leaves? Those come from the middle of the artichoke, once you cut off the top. You pull on these out–you haven’t lost anything by doing this: they are too small to hold dip.

all the equipment

After the pink leaves, you need to scrape out the inner stuff with the spoon. The official terminology for the inner stuff is  “a thicket of fuzz called a choke” according to the Joy of Cooking.  That takes care of the choke part; I’m not sure where the “arti” comes in!

Important to scrape it all out, because if you don’t it doesn’t go away, but rather, sits on top of the good part, the heart of the vegetable, like those fine fish bones you can feel on the tip of your tongue when you try to eat a piece of trout. (Ignore the trout, though, because this is a vegetarian recipe).

When you get through all this preliminary block-and-tackle work, the rest is a piece of cake.  Plunk the artichokes in a Pyrex dish and cover, then microwave for 5-8 minutes.microwaved artichoke

Nuke some butter to go with, and dig in:

artichoke with butter

The mortal remains fill a dish like lobster shells. And yes, I missed a thicket or two of fuzz!

mortal remains