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Recipe #6: Russell’s Ratatouille

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Apart from the ability to quote from every episode of Blackadder and to read reams of very silly science fiction, my dad and I share a love of cooking simple, tasty food. In fact, my father (whose name is Russell) has even published* his recipes – or, as he calls them, Russipes.

*By ‘published’, I mean he has typed them up and printed them out for me.

One of my favourites is this ratatouille recipe. Dad has some strict rules about what it takes to make certain meals properly. In the case of spaghetti bolognaise, it is breaking the mince up so that there are no large lumps. And in the case of his ratatouille, it is compulsory to squish the bitter juices out of the brinjals. Every time I tell him I am making ratatouille I know exactly what his next sentence will be: “Have you pressed the aubergines?”

So, before you start, please don’t skip this vital step. My father and I will have nothing to do with bitter, unsquashed eggplants!

Ingredients

  • 1 large aubergine/eggplant/brinjal/whateveryoucallthem or 2-3 smaller ones
  • 1 large green pepper and 1 small red pepper
  • 3 or four courgettes/baby marrows
  • A punnet of button mushrooms
  • 2 onions
  • 1 tin whole peeled tomatos
  • Some tomato paste (not in the Russipe, but I like it)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • A hefty splash of olive oil
  • Chopped parsley or friend bacon to garnish

What to do

  • Cut the ends off the aubergines and courgettes. Wash and cut them into fairly thick slices. Sprinkle liberally with salt and layer them in a colander over a plate. Squash them down with something heavy (I use a pot filled with water). Leave for at least an hour until all the moisture has been pressed out.
This is my aubergine-squashing contraption. See the brown stuff on the plate? Those are the bitter juices!

This is my aubergine-squashing contraption. See the brown stuff on the plate? Those are the bitter juices!

  • Chop the peppers, onion and garlic and roughly chop the tinned tomatoes.
With all the veggie chopping involved in this recipe, I do sometimes think of getting one of those slicer dicer things you see on TV.

With all the veggie chopping involved in this recipe, I do sometimes think of getting one of those slicer dicer things you see on TV.

  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onions and garlic for five minutes over a low heat until transparent.
  • Add the mushrooms and peppers and cook for another 10 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Cover the pan and simmer over a low heat for at least half an hour, stirring occasionally and correcting the seasoning, until the liquid thickens.

There are a couple of ways you can serve your ratatouille:

As a lovely veggie stew

In which case, simply ‘present on a bed of boiled rice’ (dad’s instructions). This is a great option for dinner parties, especially if any of your guests are vegetarian. For a change, they will not feel left out or second best. If any of your other guests are hardened meat eaters, garnish your ratatouille with bacon. This is sure to amuse.

As a side dish with meat

If you (or your loved ones) prefer meat, it can be tough to make veggies the exciting part of a meal. This ratatouille is just as toothsome and tasty as sirloin and is the perfect way to get vitamins and minerals into recalcitrant carnivores.

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I am a recalcitrant carnivore myself.

Wine pairing suggestion

Vondeling Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot

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This particular vintage got four stars from Platter, but we managed to get it at a bargain price. (Isn’t buying wine in SA so much fun? You should see the colour my boyfriend’s American friends turn when they drink our wine and then we tell them what it cost.)

The point here is that this is a vegetable stew that deserves to be paired with a wine that you’d normally serve with red meat. The lovely black peppery aromas of this full-bodied red go brilliantly with the simple seasoning of the ratatouille.

Time needed

  • Veggie chopping: 15 minutes
  • Brinjal squashing: 1-2 hours
  • Frying and simmering: 45 minutes

Dishes dirtied

  • 1 chopping board
  • 1 knife
  • 1 colander
  • 1 plate
  • 1 frying pan
  • 1 wooden spoon
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Recipe #5: The World’s Fluffiest Omelette

This is no ordinary omelette.

This is no ordinary omelette. This is the Hamley’s teddy bear of omelettes.

Today I’m going to do something I would never ordinarily do. I’m going to complicate a recipe – but just a little bit, and only because the reward is totally worth it.

Have you ever wanted to be known as ‘The Best Something-or-Otherer’? As in, ‘Oh, Alison? Why, yes, she’s the world’s best drunken night-time rollerblader!’ (I believe I was, once, a long time ago.) Well, here is your chance to become known by anyone you come into breakfast-time contact with as the World’s Best and Fluffiest Omelette Maker. From now on, ex-boyfriends (and/or girlfriends) will sigh mournfully over their stodgy eggs and remember the golden, happy days when you served them this…

Wazzuuuup!

Wazzuuuup!

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • Splash of milk/cream/sour cream
  • Knob of butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Half a tomato
  • A handful of excellent vintage cheddar, grated (Remember – NEVER skimp on cheese!)
  • Some chopped parsley or chives

What to do

There is a slightly tricky skill you’re going to need to achieve World Omelette Domination. You need to be able to separate eggs.

Until recently, I was absolutely convinced that if I got so much as a molecule of egg yellow into my egg white when separating them, the game was up and I would have to start all over again. This resulted in a large number of eggs being scrambled instead of meringued. But fear not! When I told this to a friend recently, she poo-pooed me so vigorously (and Google-proved it to boot) that I actually tested it today (accidentally). I am happy to inform you that egg whites do still beat into proper peaks, even with bits of yellow in them.

So, let’s get started!

  • Turn a plate on your stove to medium and turn on your oven’s grill.
  • Separate your eggs, and don’t despair if you get some yellow in the whites. Beat the whites until they form fairly stiff peaks (secret strategy no. 1) and then add the yolks and some milk, cream or sour cream.

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  • Heat a small frying pan with the knob of butter in it. You want it to be medium hot before you put the egg mixture in.
  • Wait a couple of minutes and then very, very gently, sprinkle the cheese, parsley/chives and tomatos on top of the eggy mousse in the frying pan.

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  • When the underneath is golden brown (lift it up and peek underneath to check) put the pan under the grill (secret strategy no. 2) so that the top gets a little bit cooked too. (Remember not to put the pan handle in the oven, and use an oven glove to take the pan out again.)

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  • Carefully flip one half over with the egg lifter and slide onto a plate.
  • Pause for audience applause.

Time needed

  • Normal omelette: 10 minutes
  • World’s Fluffiest Omelette: 15 minutes

Dishes dirtied

  • 1 chopping board
  • 1 knife
  • 1 frying pan
  • 1 egg lifter
  • 1 bowl
  • Another bowl*
  • A beater*

*Not required for Ordinary Omelettes

To sum up: 5 extra minutes and 2 extra things to wash up. That’s all it takes to become World Omelette Champion!

Wine pairing suggestion

Backsberg Brut MCC

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Unlike scones, omelettes are a manly breakfast, even when they are soft and fluffy. No pink bubbles for this then! The creamy, smooth mousse of the Backsberg MCC will be as frothy as your amazing omelette.