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I didn’t go outside at all yesterday. It was my day off and I had plans to do a few things, but the winds were so crazy and the skies so gloomy, I just stayed in. Dreary, in fact, is what my weather app called it. And whenever the weather is crappy, I always have a craving for familiar foods.

Ratatouille has always been one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s warm and hearty, but also light. As much as I love smoked collard greens, po’ boys, and hush puppies, I want to make sure my heart doesn’t stop by the time I’m 50.

I have always cooked ratatouille by layering and baking the vegetables, but when I was in France, I always saw my host mom making it in a pot like stew. And so yesterday I decided to try that out since I was also feeling some polenta and figured the stew version would work better atop the polenta than the baked version.

This isn’t my host mom’s recipe, but I like to think it’s close. As soon as the olive oil heated up and let the herbes de provence release their oils, it instantly reminded me of sitting in the kitchen of my host family’s home in Southern France and smelling my host mom’s wonderful cooking.

Cilantro Polenta with Ratatouille 

Ingredients:

For the polenta (make ahead):

  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 cup of yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup of cold water
  • 1 teaspoon of dried cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2/3 cup of freshly grated piave

For the ratatouille:

  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon of herbes de provence
  • 5-7 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 large eggplant, cubed
  • 1 large onion, sliced and separated into rings
  • 2-14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 red bell peppers, cut into 1.5 inch x 1/2 inch segments
  • 6 white mushrooms, sliced
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring 3 cups of water to boil.
  2. In the meantime, mix together the cornmeal, the cold water, and the dried cilantro. Stir well so there are no clumps.
  3. Once the water has been brought to boil, pour in the cornmeal mixture and turn the heat down to medium.
  4. Continue to cook, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn or clump.
  5. Once the cornmeal starts to thicken, add in the piave, and cook until it has solidified.
  6. Once it has cooled to touch, refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  7. When you’re ready to start the ratatouille, take the polenta out of the fridge so it can warm up to room temperature while you’re cooking.
  8. To start the ratatouille, heat up 1/3 cup of the olive oil in a Dutch oven, and add in one tablespoon of herbes de provence and the crushed garlic.
  9. Saute for about 2 minutes, letting the herbs release the oil.
  10. Then add in the cubed eggplant and cook on high for about 8 minutes.
  11. In the meantime, saute the onion rings in a separate pan in the rest of the olive oil for about 8-10 minutes, or until transparent.
  12. Once the eggplant is about half cooked, add in one can of diced tomatoes.
  13. Then add in the red bell peppers and reduce the heat to medium.
  14. Add in the mushrooms, as well as the onions once they are ready, including any residual olive oil.
  15. Add in the second can of diced tomatoes, mix well and cook covered for about 12-15 minutes.
  16. Add in the second tablespoon of herbes de provence as well as a pinch of salt and a pinch of ground black pepper.
  17. Cook covered for another 15 minutes.
  18. Meanwhile, remove the polenta from the refrigerator and cut a serving portion.
  19. Pan fry quickly, lightly browning both sides. You can use the pan you sauteed the onions in.
  20. Top with ratatouille and enjoy. (And don’t let the sauce go to waste. Grab a piece of baguette and soak it all up at the end of your meal.)

I didn’t have any zucchini, or courgette as it is called over in Europe, so I left it out, but traditional ratatouille does include it so if you have it on hand, lightly sautee it in olive oil before adding it to the pot at the same time as the bell peppers.

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