Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Meet Jennifer!

I love vegetables. I think I could probably be a vegetarian. At least I could if bacon didn't exist. Or shrimp. Or scallops. Or Zewigle's white hots (look them up if you've never heard of them, which you probably haven't unless you are from upstate New York).

I'm not sure how this happened, since I grew up in a family that doesn't like "weird" vegetables. By "weird" vegetables, I mean anything other than corn, potatoes, green beans, lettuce, and radishes. Last summer, I got my sister to try arugula, and you would have thought I'd fed her kerosene. She was not a fan. Regardless of the fact that I am the culinary outcast of my family, a lot of what I cook is vegetable-based. I leave most of the meat cooking to my carnivore husband.

I not only love to eat vegetables, I love to grow them. I had my first garden while going to college in South Carolina. My elderly neighbor brought me some tomato plants and what I now realize was the most amazing compost ever. It looked like potting soil, but you could still find the occasional bit of eggshell or lettuce in it. It was good stuff. He let me borrow his tiller, which just about carried me off at first, but I got the hang of it. I dug a hole for each tomato plant, poured in some compost per his instructions, and filled it in. By the end of summer I had the best tomatoes I had ever eaten. I've now had a garden, in one form or another, for the past 10 years.

So, all of this brings me to one of my favorite dishes: Baked Ratatouille. It is not technical, difficult, or fancy, but it's still one of my favorites. To me, there is nothing better than being able to go into the garden and return with a basket full of dinner ingredients. It's like having your own personal grocery store. Although I've lived in Atlanta for the past year, I grew up and lived most of my life (and had most of my gardens) in Rochester, New York. The summers and the growing season are short, but the soil makes for great gardens, and this dish is a wonderful end-of-summer reward to enjoy as the temperatures start to drop and you know that fall is on its way. Although many (including my husband) consider ratatouille a side dish, I think that a bowl of it along with a couple of slices of no-knead bread makes for a perfect meal.

Unfortunately, the vegetables I used this time came from a grocery store, but I just prepared my plot at the community garden today, so hopefully it won't be long before I'll have my own home-grown ingredients.

Baked Ratatouille
adapted from this recipe

3 Indian eggplant, cut into cubes
2 small crookneck squash, cut into cubes
5 medium tomatoes, or equivalent, cored and cut into cubes
3 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine vegetables, olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper in a baking dish. Roast for 60 minutes, stirring a couple of times during cooking, or until vegetables are cooked through. Stir in vinegar and top with pine nuts.

No-knead Bread
adapted from this recipe

3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting work surface
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (7 ounces) water, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (3 ounces) mild-flavored lager
1 Tablespoon white vinegar

Mix together flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Mix with a wooden spoon until dry ingredients are incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature overnight.

Pour dough from bowl onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about a minute. Form into a tight ball, pulling edges underneath. Lay dough, seam-side down, onto a piece of parchment paper coated with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise about 2 hours, until doubled in size. 

Sprinkle top of dough with flour and make a slice with a sharp knife down the center of the loaf. Place dough, still on parchment, into a cast iron pot with a tight-fitting lid. Place covered pot in oven and heat to 425°F. When oven reaches 425°F, bake bread for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake until golden brown, 20-30 minutes longer.

Cool bread on wire rack.

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