31 August 2012

Frugal French Friday: Easy Ratatouille

It's ratatouille time! It's ratatouille time!

Who doesn't love this classic Ni├žoise dish, made with eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers and tomatoes? It's great with pasta, rice, a baguette and even an omelet. I've paired it with potatoes, too.

It requires some preparation, but once the slicing and dicing is over, this stove-top version is done in one hour.

Which was great for me. Because I'm finishing up some projects at the office and tying up loose ends, I'm short of time just now.

That does not stop me from eating well and eating locally. I'm proud to say that 99 percent of this dish was made with locally-grown ingredients. Olive oil is not produced in northern Wisconsin or Upper Michigan.

The vegetables come from the farm market and the herbs and one of the peppers are from my own garden. Generally I prefer to serve my ratatouille over rice from the Camargue, but I had none so I served it as a side dish with this tarte.

If you read French, you may find this link fun to read. Here's another ratatouille option, and yet another one that I absolutely adore and drool on my keyboard every time I look at it. Here is another beautiful post that has the same effect on me.

Cost: The total cost of this dish was approximately $8, since I bought everything at the farm market. I managed four servings out of it so that's only $2 per person per meal. Serving it over rice adds only pennies. Ratatouille is one of the best bargains around, and it's comfort food, too.

Wine pairing: A Cotes de Rhone or a Roija are generally recommended with ratatouille.

27 August 2012

France: Late Summer in the Lot

Autumn seems to be sneaking in early this year, with splashes of scarlet and saffron already tinting the maple trees along the river and the bay. Warm days and cool nights bring out the beauty in Wisconsin's sugar maples. Last week, visitors from San Francisco, on their way back home after spending time back east told me New England's colors were already showing.

I love the colors of fall, and recently augmented my cool-weather wardrobe with sweaters the color of paprika and pumpkin. No more business suits for me after Sept. 28

Meanwhile I wanted to share some late summer scenes from The Lot Valley in France. Late summer, with its hints of glories to come, is as lovely as fall.

 Entering our little village west of Cahors.

Display of bulk spices at the Cahors market.

Grapes at the market in Cahors.

A field near Flottes, Pradines, on a lazy Sunday in September.

Driving into Albas, west of Cahors, on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

La Roque-Gageac, up in the Dordogne, which was still green and warm.

 Roof tiles in the afternoon sun, Caillac.

The neighbor's dog visited often, and stayed on our last afternoon, consoling me.

26 August 2012

Leek-Olive Tart with Pave d'Affinois & Parmesan Cheese

It all started when I bought a small brick of creamy Pave d'Affinois cheese (see photo below) at the Italian market across the river. This creamy relative to Brie is heavenly, with a light grassiness and a hint of green apple.

I could have spread it on a slice of baguette, but I wanted something a bit more complex. But not complicated.

A Google search brought me to this recipe from Martha Stewart and I captivated by the rustic look of the tart. I had all the ingredients, save for the leeks, but I was pretty sure I could buy those from the Immerfrost Farm growers at the Saturday farm market.

I love these guys, and most of the other vendors. They know what I want. One of the vendors saves her odd-shaped vegetables for me. She knows I think vegetables are people. More on that one some other time.

I followed the recipe almost exactly, but followed the reviewers' suggestions and sliced my leeks differently. It was easier to eat this way. I'd suggest cutting back on the salt used on the leeks, too, as the Mediterranean olives I used provided plenty of salty flavor. As you all know, I am liberal with herbes de Provence, so I added a dash of that, too.

The thyme came from my own garden, but other than that, only the leeks were local. I would like to report that I made my own puff pastry, but I cannot tell a lie. It's on my to-do list for rewirement. Only 22 more work days!

Since I trimmed the cheese brick before melting the cheese on the tarte, I suspect it will turn up in a soup recipe sometime down the line. With Pave d'Affinois, the rind is edible.

Meanwhile, the tart was perfect for breakfast, too.

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25 August 2012

At the Market: Stuffing Tomatoes

I was so eager to see what Immerfrost Farm had in store for me today, I barely gave them time to unpack.

The growers did not let me down. What they had were these wonderful stuffing tomatoes. Because I've got another recipe to make today, I'm going to ponder the filling for a while.

My online research indicates these tomatoes keep well in the refrigerator, so I've got some time to come up with a recipe for filling, maybe even two.

I'd like your suggestions. What would you do?

See my on-the-spot photo of the tomatoes here.

22 August 2012

Eggplant for Comfort

Much of this week I am off work because the Search and Screen Committee is interviewing candidates for my job. I want to make myself scarce because it's a small office and I'd feel like a definite fifth wheel.

Who am I kidding? It's really a bittersweet thing, choosing to leave one's job to tend to family obligations, and let's face it, get a break from the 50-hour work week that comes with being head of a non-profit organization in a relatively small community.

I don't want to be there.

I don't want to be here.

On the other hand, it's late summer and the landscape is slowly gilding itself with signs of autumn's color extravaganza. The crickets are singing. Kids are getting ready to go back to school and everything is a bit more peaceful than it was a month ago.

After the middle of August, it's like that. It's relaxing to be home at this time of year, and it makes me think of my annual August stay at Grandma Annie's house.

Which makes me want comfort food.

I sliced two Asian eggplant and layered them in a small, greased baking dish. I sprinkled with fleur de sel and herbes de Provence and then layered a thinly sliced tomato from my garden on top. I baked in a 350-oven for about an hour, sprinkling Parmesan cheese on top for the last 10-15 minutes of baking.

Simple. To some people, not blog worthy. To me, wonderful.

What do you do with eggplant?

20 August 2012

At the Market: Indigo Rose Tomatoes

Some things are meant to be enjoyed all by themselves.

Indigo Rose tomatoes are among them.

They look likes small plums. But bite into one and it's juicier than a plum could ever be. And it's just about as sweet.

The flavor is supercharged tomato. The juice dribbles down your chin, so wear a bib.

The Immerfrost Farm growers are spoiling me with their great produce and imaginative displays. My palate, always discriminating when it comes to tomatoes, is downright snobbish now.

I might never buy a grocery store tomato again. Ever. Even in dead of winter.

It just wouldn't be the same.

16 August 2012

At the Market: The Doctor is Green and He's a Tomato

I'm like a kid in a candy store when I go to a farm market. I can feel my adrenaline pumping. I get butterflies in my stomach. Doesn't matter if I'm in France or back home.

I love discovering new things. New things to eat, especially.

So when of the growers at Immerfrost Farm showed me this little green guy and said, "Here try this!" I had to buy it. Problem is, I bought only one. Silly me.

This is the first tomato that tastes like wine. It is complex. I mean, it has an initial note, a mouthfeel and a finish. And the flavor mellows once the tomato has been sliced or burst open with a bite. My first thought was that it had a grassy taste. I thought I tasted corn, too. Then there was something funny, something nice happening to my mouth. The flavors were evolving.

I've experienced this with wine and good coffee. But never with a tomato. The tiny piece I allowed my husband to taste had the same affect on him.

Can you fall in love with a tomato? I guess so.

It turns out this little guy, Green Doctor's Frosted, is only three years old. I'm robbing the cradle, so to speak.

These tomatoes are like candy. Most cherry or grape tomatoes are - all that sweet tartness concentrated in a small package. The "frosted" part apparently refers to this tomato's grape-like appearance.

Read more about this wonderful little tomato here. And here.