Monday, October 8, 2007

Ratatouille à la Maïté

The first time I seriously got into cooking, I was in France after completing my engineering degree in Montreal. I had moved to France back then for a couple of years with the hope of landing myself a good entry-level job in civil engineering, as the university had informed newly grads that France was one of the places to be for civil engineers, with booming opportunities in that field. I had sent out hundreds of curriculum vitaes to interesting companies that were looking for new blood. As months went by, I slowly became frustrated with the lack of responses from target companies despite all the energy and effort I was putting in my job hunt. Most of the firms I applied to were looking for candidates with an engineering degree from the "Hautes Écoles" (prestigious and renowned universities in France). Quickly, I became discouraged and gave myself a deadline to find myself an engineering job, even if it were to be just a "stage" (internship). All I wanted was to gain professional experience like every new grad wished for.

Fortunately, my stay in France wasn't all that discouraging. It opened my eyes to a completely different world ; cooking good food. What better place to learn how to cook other than France! I was exploring fresh produce such as cheese, meats, vegetables and pastries while visiting the outdoor "marchés" (food markets) every Sunday morning. I remember my first "Boeuf Bourguignon" being a disaster as I had not cooked the meat long enough, it was as hard as a rock. My first successful dish was a ratatouille, a stewed vegetable dish which originated from Nice, France. The key ingredients are zucchinis (courgette), tomatoes, eggplant, onions and garlic. But my favourite ratatouille is from Maïté's recipe which includes potatoes and parsley. Maïté is a famous cook from southern France whose popular cooking show became an inspiration to my cooking "au pif". Her jovial presence and chanting southern french accent was quite entertaining and her recipes so easy to follow. This dish is mostly served as a side dish, but often enough it is also eaten as a main dish with rice or potatoes. If it wasn't for Maïté, I think I would have left France earlier than planned and not have discovered my inner passion for cooking and eating simple and good food...and I probably would have never started this blog!

Recipe "au pif":
3 large tomatoes, diced (big pieces)
2 medium green zucchinis, cut in thin slices
1 baby eggplant or 1/2 of large eggplant cut in thin slices
1 large baking potato cut in thing slices
3 medium garlic cloves, mashed and minced
1 medium onion cut in thin slices
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
butter and olive oil
chopped parlsey

On medium heat, melt a bit butter in a big pan and sauté potatoes until edges are brown. Remove potatoes and put aside.
Add and heat a bit of oil and butter in same pan and sauté eggplant until brown. Remove eggplant and put aside.
Heat a bit of oil and stir in the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes. Stir in tomatoes and cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes until tomatoes have almost turned into a sauce (liquidy and chunky).
Stir back in the potatoes, eggplant with the tomatoes, onions and garlic. Stir well until all ingredients are well mixed. Add in the zucchinis last (since they cook fast) and stir with all ingredients. Add in salt, pepper and chili flakes. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste and add salt to taste, if desired.
Add chopped parsley to serve.

Serves 4 people.

No comments: