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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 #4: Coq Au Vin à la Sud-Africaine

Just what you want when it's cold and dark outside.

Just what you want when it’s cold and dark outside.

I took my (slightly chewed) apple crumble with me to a dinner party last week, where we were served superb pistachio-nut soup topped with Turkish saffron, followed by a traditional French coq au vin, stewed for hours in a Le Creuset casserole, complete with shallots brought specially from France. My hosts had slaved for hours over these dishes, so I felt a little cheeky pulling out the humble crumble, but it seemed to go down rather well anyway.

Despite the exotic allure of the soup, I was put off by grim stories of spending hours shelling nuts so, although I asked my friend for both recipes, I only intended to try the coq au vin. And, of course, I planned to make it as easy on myself as possible. Good news: I succeeded.

Here then, is my coq au vin recipe à la Sud-Africaine.

Ingredients

Yes, there are a lot of them, but they’re very simple and you should have most of them in your kitchen already.

  • 1 very cold and rainy day when you have a few hours to kill and want an excuse to drink wine.
  • 1 large, fresh chicken. Or two. It depends on how many people you plan to feed and how big your casserole dish is.
  • 2 or 3 bottles of Pinotage. Traditional coq au vin calls for Burgundy, which is usually Pinot Noir. But with the price of Pinot Noir in this country, there’s no way I’m cooking with it. I chose an el cheapo Black Tie Pinotage, available for about R26 a bottle at Pick ‘n Pay.
  • 2 or 3 shots of brandy. Not your best stuff, please.
  • 1 packet streaky bacon, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and rosemary, tied up with string. Or, in my case, an elastic band. I’ve seen Bridget Jones.
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Small sachet of tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • A punnet of white button mushrooms
  • Plenty of butter and olive oil
You need a fairly large frying pan to fit a whole chicken into. Remember to turn it over.

You need a fairly large frying pan to fit a whole chicken into. Remember to turn it over. The chicken, not the frying pan.

What to do

  • Preheat the oven to 140 C.
  • Fry the bacon, onions and chicken (whole) in a large frying pan with some olive oil. Then put them all in the casserole dish.
  • Pour the brandy over the chicken. Attempt to ignite it, as per friend’s fancy French recipe. Fail. Sulk. Carry on.
You probably need two people to do the 'igniting the brandy while pouring it on' routine.

You probably need two people to do the ‘igniting the brandy while pouring it on’ routine. Poking the brandy-splashed chicken with a match doesn’t work.

  • Add 1 bottle of red wine, the herbs, bay leaves, sugar, lemon juice, tomato paste and garlic, cover the dish, and put it in the oven for 2 to 2.5 hours. If your chicken/s aren’t covered by the wine, take them out and turn them over once or twice.
  • In the same large frying pan as before, fry the mushrooms whole, with plenty of butter and olive oil and a bit of fresh thyme. Keep them until the chicken is ready.
  • When the chicken is very tender, melt some more butter (about half a cup) in a small saucepan, add the flour and mix to form a creamy paste (it’s called a beurre manié if you’re posh. Or French). Take the chicken out of the oven and add the beurre stuff to it, along with the mushrooms.
  • Serve in the casserole dish, sprinkled generously with parsley (after all, it’s the only green stuff in the meal).
It's going to take a fair bit of willpower not to just gobble these up as soon as they're fried. Maybe wait until just before the chicken is ready.

It’s going to take a fair bit of willpower not to just gobble these up. Maybe wait until just before the chicken is ready to fry them.

Wine pairing suggestion

I was almost stymied until I realised that there is only one wine you can serve with coq au vin, and that is the wine you made it with. That is why, my observant readers, I said you need 2 or 3 bottles of wine, even though the recipe only calls for one.

I did try drinking a very good Bordeaux-style blend, but it simply didn’t work, and I had to recork it. Which is why tonight I am drinking this:

It's cheap, but you can drink it.

Black Tie. It’s cheap, but you can drink it.

It’s really not as bad as it looks. A friend of mine reckons that some winery had oodles of excess good stuff and just packaged it in these awful-looking bottles so they could sell it off cheap. I don’t think that’s true, but it’s still quite drinkable and exceptional value. And, if you’re making this meal for a boozy dinner party, here’s the really good news: It comes in five-litre boxes too.

Time needed

  • Actually doing stuff: 20-30 minutes
  • In the oven: 2-2.5 hours

Dishes dirtied

  • 1 chopping board
  • 1 knife
  • 1 large frying pan
  • 1 small saucepan
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • 1 casserole dish