Monday, July 27, 2009

Red and Green Ratatouille

This week, I'm going to focus on the budgetary benefits of weaving vegetarian meals into your weekly menu plan.

It goes without saying that if you buy less meat protein, you'll spend less at the grocery store.

One thing to be conscious of when buying fresh vegetables is the produce that's best bought organic, and the conventionally grown produce that's safe to eat.

You might like to review Food News' Shopper's Guide to Pesticides and familiarize yourself with the good, the bad and the ugly news.

Summer is the season of abundant fresh produce, which means summer veggies are priced reasonably and soft fruits are often on sale.

I bought two-for-one bunches of baby red chard the other day -- delicate little leaves with an equally delicate flavor and the bunches were huge! So keep your eyes peeled.

Despite loving salads in summer, I prefer them as a side to a hot dish. That's why my meal idea today is ratatouille, which by the way, can be served cold if you don't fancy a hot Italian vegetable casserole in the middle of summer.

Red Ratatouille (pic at the top)
1) Chop one large eggplant, one brown onion, one or two cloves or garlic, one red or green bell pepper, two zucchini or one pale-green giant courgette, and 4 juicy tomatoes.
2) Heat olive oil in a skillet, add eggplant and toss about until pieces have browned slightly. Remove from pan and slide eggplant onto a paper-towel covered plate (paper towel will absorb any excess oil).
3) Add more oil to pan, this time tossing in garlic and onion. Stir about till onion is transparent.
4) Add bell pepper, zucchini, stir veggies on med heat until they begin to soften slightly.
5) Add browned eggplant and then chopped tomatoes, turn heat to low.
6) Put a lid on the skillet and gently stew veggies in their own juices until they're soft (about 15 mins)
7) At around the half-way mark, you may like to enrich the flavor of the red ratatouille by adding a big dollop of tomato paste or a tinned or bottled tomato sauce -- enough to moisten, but not flood your veggies. You may even like to add a slurp of red wine to further enrich the flavor.
8) Cook gently a little longer, and taste test, adding salt and pepper if you wish.

To Serve: Toss chopped fresh basil over the lot, and drizzle with olive oil. You may like to grate fresh Romano, Parmesan or your choice of hard Italian cheese over the ratatouille or serve the cheese in slices on the side with crusty Italian bread. A crisp, green side salad, and perhaps a side bowl of quinoa or millet with pine nuts will complete this vegetarian meal.

You're probably most familiar with the red-based ratatouille above, the color of which comes from tomatoes. But a friend gave me lots of basil and a pale-green giant courgette from her garden last week so I decided to create a green ratatouille which takes its color from the pesto I made from the basil, and subsequently mixed into the ratatouille.

Green Ratatouille

1) Follow points one through six, leaving out the tomatoes.
2) While veggies are gently stewing, make pesto:

1) Toss a washed bunch of basil into a blender with a couple cloves of smashed garlic, a big handful of either walnuts or pinenuts, a handful of washed parsley (parsley diffuses the intensity of the raw garlic), and a handful of grated Romano or Parmesan or your choice of hard Italian cheese.
2) Turn blender on and begin pouring in about a half a cup of olive oil or enough to create a smooth paste, or less if you prefer a chunkier pesto. Salt and pepper to taste.

To Serve: Add a couple big spoons of pesto to your skillet and stir into veggies. Test taste, add more pesto if you prefer a richer flavor. And then follow the serving suggestion for the Red Ratatouille.

Because green ratatouille is absent tomatoes, you might like to serve it with a side of sliced tomatoes, sliced mozzarella and sliced cucumber. Decorate a plate with slices of the three, and drizzle with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.

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