I am determined to get a little better this school year about planning out our dinnertime meals. I haven’t any night classes or meetings, so I really don’t have any handy excuses. (Darn.) I do have shelves of cookbooks, so I grabbed one down I’ve been wanting to explore a little more: Cuisine Economique by Jacques Pepin. A good friend introduced me to Pepin, and I found this cookbook through the library, and later purchased a used copy. It was published in 1992, but seems to me like it might be due for a renewed appreciation with so much economic doom and gloom in the last year or so.
Now the idea behind it is to use inexpensive cuts, prepared simply, and seasonal produce to cut meal costs without sacrificing flavor, and all with a French flavor. What I like about it most is that it is arranged seasonally, with multiple dinner menus presented for each season. The other night I flipped to the summer section and decided upon a ratatouille paired with strawberries (topped with sour cream and brown sugar) for dessert. There was a third dish (called a Grand Aoili) that looked a little more involved than I was feeling up to, so I swapped it for grilled sausages (for all except me–they seem to be one of the few foods I don’t eat).
I’ve posted the recipes below if you are so inclined. The strawberries were a delightful surprise, but be sure that your berries are cold to make this light dessert even more refreshing. The ratatouille was good, but I think it would be even better as an appetizer dip with bread.
If you’ve had any success shaking up your dinner routine, I’d love some tips (and recipes)!
QUICK FRAGRANT RATATOUILLE
From Jaques Pepin– You can fine the whole menu here in a N.Y. Times article with recipes, but I’ve reposted them here as well.
My main change to this recipe was to swap the fresh tomatoes for 1 fresh and 1 1/2 cans chopped tomatoes with chiles. The chiles added a little spice to the dish.
Preparation time: 20 to 25 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
1/4 cup virgin or extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnish
3 onions, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
1 large green bell pepper, cut in half, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large eggplant, trimmed at both ends, and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
4 small zucchini, trimmed at both ends, and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced (about 3 tablespoons)
4 tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 cup shredded basil
Freshly ground black pepper for garnish.
1.Heat oil in a large saucepan. When hot, add onion and green pepper and saute for about 5 minutes over high heat. Then add the eggplant, zucchini, pepper flakes and salt, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking. (There is enough moisture in the vegetables to keep the mixture from burning.) Add the garlic and tomatoes and continue cooking, covered, for 6 to 8 minutes.
2.Remove from the heat, transfer to a serving bowl and cool to room temperature. Just before serving, stir in half the basil, sprinkle the remaining basil on top, and garnish with a few tablespoons of olive oil and ground black pepper.
NOTE: The ratatouille can also be served cold, garnished with additional basil.
LEFTOVER ratatouille can be chopped fine into a ”caviar,” seasoned with a dash of hot-pepper flakes or cayenne pepper, and served as a dip with potato chips, corn chips or crackers.
This mixture also makes a great stuffing for ravioli, which can be served with tomato sauce for a light lunch.
Strawberries With Sour Cream and Brown Sugar
Preparation time: 10 minutes
1 quart ripe strawberries, washed and hulled
1 pint sour cream
12 tablespoons light brown sugar.
Divide strawberries among 6 dessert bowls. Spoon about 2 to 3 tablespoons of sour cream over the berries in each bowl and sprinkle each serving with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar.