- The "fresh" tomatoes at the market looked horrible. I used canned plum tomatoes.
- Instead of Serrano ham, we used prosciutto. It's not the same. But it tasted great.
- Instead of Espelette pepper, we used smoked paprika (maybe my favorite seasoning), but a lot less of what is called for in the recipe. Smoked paprika has an intense flavor that quickly overwhelms everything it touches. And you're using a beautiful bit of fish, so go easy.
- Speaking of fish, we couldn't get fresh cod. We used halibut. Life goes on.
Taking prohibited pictures of Michelangelo's David (without flash).
Being sonically accosted by the University of Southern California marching band playing Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" in the Pitti Palace gardens.
And gelato. Perfect gelato.
In the days before our trip, we came across some advice on gelato: if the pistachio gelato is bright green, run away (food coloring); and look for the gelatario that keeps its frozen fat hidden in canisters. I have no idea if the advice is more right than wrong, but it certainly served us well. Just steps from the Duomo, we found Grom gelatario.
Nearly every night during our stay, we stopped by Grom for a fix of extra-dark chocolate (cioccolato extranoir), hazlenut (nocciola), and cream with candied lemons, oranges, and citrons (cassata siciliana). One of my favorite memories of our visit is sitting on the steps of the Duomo at sunset, loving where we were right at that moment, and finishing off another cup of Grom.
I know foodies go on and on about how important it is to have high-quality ingredients (which typically means shelling out a bunch of money, which comes off feeling snobby and elitist). But for a couple of bucks, Grom gives you a cup of perfection with quality and craft that you can really taste.
Our son said to me yesterday, "Daddy, I want to be a chef." Then he started calling me "Chef Daddy." I feel this is a ploy to get more Thomas the Tank Engine trains.
It will work.
It's funny when you (we) have children, you want to introduce these big "something specials" to them. For me, I can't wait for our kids to be old enough to read Roald Dahl's "The Boy Who Talked with Animals," but I'd hate for them to get the idea I want them to runaway on the back of a giant sea turtle. It's a horrible balance, isn't it? "I want you to love this" vs. "don't embrace it too fully please, because I like you and would hate to see you go tumbling down a hill inside of a giant peach."
And so it was with Ratatouille. I want our kids to love cooking. To love food. To find something new in creating, filling people up and making them feel better. To solve problems by looking at something and thinking "what could I make with that?"
Our son can't say "Ratatouille," so he calls it "The Rat That Cooks."
That seems like enough.
And his sisters are almost old enough to watch a little bit. I want them to see the joy of the whole thing.
On the day she was set to visit, we were deluged with horrible rains and wind, wiping out her visit. We had made a giant batch of ratatouille. We were flooded with roasted vegetables, and we couldn't bear to get rid of them. So we made soup. The soup was better than the actual ratatouille. Then we added dollops of tapenade, and the whole thing was brilliant. (We still owe Jessi dinner, and the flooding this week reminded me how much we miss her.)
Here is the so-called recipe. Improvise, please. It's very forgiving.
Note - Don't worry too much about perfect slices of the veggies. You're going to blend the whole thing. No one will know.
Ratatouille Soup with Tapenade
- Two onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 5 tomatoes, peeled (No good fresh tomatoes at the store, so I used canned. I know. I'm disappointed, too. We'll get over it. Dump out the juice if you feel like it. Keep it if you don't. It'll be fine. Relax.)
- 4 small eggplant or 2 medium ones. (I don't like giant eggplant. It's funky in not a good way.) Slice these 1/4 inch thick right before you assemble everything. You don't need to salt them if you've done that with eggplant before. You're not frying them, so the liquid is good here.
- 4 small green and/or yellow squash, cut 1/4 inch thick
- Thyme. Or rosemary. Or both. Remove the thyme from the woody stems, but leave it on the green soft stems. Chop the rosemary after you've taken it off the stem.
- Add in whatever else you like. No one is looking.
- Olive oil. Salt (Kosher, yes?) and pepper.
- A quart of chicken or veggie stock, but probably less. Plan for 2 c. to start, but have the extra handy. Or use water. Really, current chicken stock from the store is pretty much water, so just do water if you want.
- Tapenade, purchased or make your own by blitzing some pitted olives, capers, garlic, and olive oil.
Assemble all the ingredients together.
You can layer them in a Dutch oven or throw them on a giant cookie sheet. Covered or uncovered (uncovered gets you some tasty browning, but watch that it doesn't burn).
Toss with olive oil. Thyme. Rosemary. Salt. Pepper. Bake for 45 minutes or so. Eyeball it.
Does it look done? No? Roast it some more. I've gone 90 minutes when I cut the vegetables too thick.
When you're good with the doneness (stick a fork in the veggies), take it out of the oven. If you have a stick/immersion blender, this will be easy. If not, use a food processor, but use caution with the heat. If you aren't careful with hot items in a blender (don't put the top on; cover it with a towel), it will explode, sending near-boiling liquid hurtling through space and time, and leaving you with some nasty face burns. I know from experience.
Add in some stock to the veggie (figure out how much you need yourself). Blend. If too thick, add some stock. Taste. Salt and pepper until you're happy.
Scoop some soup into a bowl. Add a dollop of tapenade.
Let's talk pie.
I want it. Pretty much every waking moment. I think of pie as less of a dessert and more of a lifestyle choice. Some people have dogs. Or run. Or have a pied-à-terre in Paris. I have pie.
(Hint - if you are a recessive pie crust maker like me and you live near a Trader Joe's, get their frozen pie crusts. I'm not hating them at all.)