A few years ago it was the obvious garnish to nearly every dish: oven roasted cherry tomatoes, preferably on the vine. It looks and tastes nice plus it is easy to make. Just heat your oven to 180 °C or 350 °F, add the tomatoes to a baking dish, sprinkle with salt, olive oil and 30 minutes later they’re ready to serve. When cold you can add them to a salad or a sandwich with soft cheese (mozzarella, burrata, ricotta). An alternative is to halve the tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and quickly roast and dry them in the oven. Another tasty result.
We prefer a slow alternative: Tomato Confit. The idea is that the skin doesn’t crack, so the tomatoes remain intact, and at the same time they absorb the flavours of the oil, herbs and garlic. The result is not just a great sweet and juicy tomato, it’s a taste explosion!
Wash and dry the tomatoes and add these to a baking dish. Chop the garlic. Add herbs, garlic and a generous amount of olive oil to the dish. No salt, honey or sugar required. Put in the oven for something like 2 hours on 90 °C or 200 °F. You could baste the tomatoes once or twice. Don’t forget to use the cooking liquid as well, it’s another pack of flavours!
Think summer vegetables, think Ratatouille! Which is also the title of a film released in 2007 about a rat called Remy with a passion for cooking. If you want to see how he prepares ratatouille then simply go to YouTube (or buy the DVD if you’re old fashioned like us). Ratatouille brings back memories of summer, of the South of France, of the Mediterranean. It combines very well with a simple sausage, with lamb, with grilled chicken. However you prepare your ratatouille, be sure to prepare it a day ahead. The taste becomes much more integrated after a day (or two) in the refrigerator. Unfortunately it doesn’t freeze well due to the eggplant.
Our recipe is very much the recipe of a dear friend. She taught us how to make ratatouille in her summer kitchen, overlooking the pool and the garden with herbs and vegetables. Indeed, fond memories. To our surprise she added cilantro (you would expect thyme or basil) and many years later we are still grateful for this twist. The cilantro enhances the feeling of summer and it supports the various vegetables in a beautiful way.
We enjoyed our ratatouille with a glass of simple, red wine with lots of red and black fruits. Spicy with subtle tannins. A wine that brings summer to your glass.
What You Need (4 people)
1 Eggplant or Aubergine
1 Courgette or Zucchini
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Chili Pepper
4 Excellent Tomatoes
What You Do
Start by cutting the aubergine in small but not too small chunks. Drizzle with salt and mix. Let the mixture rest for a few hours, allowing for the aubergine to loose water and become firm. Best way to do this is by putting the aubergine in a sieve and let it rest above a bowl. The tomatoes require some attention as well. You could peel them, but that’s optional. What is not optional is to separate the tomato meat and juices from the pits. First step is to remove the internal hard bits and the pits and put these aside. You now have the outer part of the tomato, which you can slice. Cut the remainder of the tomatoes roughly, add to a sieve and by using the back of a spoon make sure you capture the juices. Be surprised about the volume of tomato juice and the small amount of tomato bits and pits that remain in your sieve.
Cut the bell pepper into long slices and fry these in the pan with olive oil. Peel the courgette, slice in the way you sliced the aubergine and add to the pan. Continue frying. Add the finely chopped chilli pepper (not the seeds of course). Add the firm aubergine after having removed the remaining salt with water. After a few moments add the tomato chunks, fry a bit more, add the tomato juice and leave on low to medium heat for 60 minutes. Try not to stir too much; otherwise you risk creating mashed vegetables. Cool, set aside and store in the refrigerator. The next day: if you have excess liquid, remove the vegetables from the liquid, reduce it until thickened and transfer the vegetables back into the pan. Otherwise gently warm the ratatouille, add some chopped cilantro, mix gently and add more cilantro just before serving.
We love using wonderful Mediterranean herbs such as basil, thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, saffron and tarragon. So we couldn’t resist buying a large bunch of sage and cooking this very tasteful, simple and uplifting starter. Sage has been around for many, many years and is an essential ingredient in many countries, both for medicinal and culinary purposes. Its taste is somewhat soapy, with a touch of acidity, a little bitterness, subtle eucalyptus and slightly peppery. Did we mention unique? Preferably use fresh, thin pasta or Japanese udon, lots of butter and your best olive oil when preparing this dish.
We enjoyed our pasta with a glass of Bianco di Custoza 2020, made by Monte del Frà from Italy. It is a well-balanced, dry white wine, with a fruity nose. Its colour is straw yellow, with pale green highlights. In general you’re looking for a light, aromatic dry white wine.
What You Need
Bunch of Sage
What You Do
Melt the butter in a large pan, devein and chop the leaves, add the sage to the butter, stir. The butter should embrace the flavours and aromas of the sage. When the mixture is nearly ready (this will take only a few minutes) cook the pasta. Grate some fresh Parmesan cheese. Keep a glass of the cooking liquid of the pasta, drain the paste, add it to the pan, mix, add some olive oil, mix, add a spoonful or two of the cooking liquid and make sure the pasta is fully coated with sage, butter and oil. Perhaps some black pepper. Garnish with Parmesan Cheese and serve on a warm plate.
What better way to start a nice long dinner than a dish that is light, colourful, surprising and refreshing? A Consommé of Yellow Tomatoes for instance? Or Scallops with Winter Truffle? Or would you prefer a salad made with Bietola da orto tonda di Chioggia? Sounds exotic, but actually it’s a salad made with Chioggia beet: a delicious beet with deep pink and white spirals. It originates from Italy or, to be more precise, from the coastal town of Chioggia, not far from Venice. When cooking the beet its colours fade, creating an even more enticing dish.
Another forgotten vegetable that is worth remembering when you do your Christmas shopping.
The dressing comes with firm acidity, balanced by the sweetness of the beet and the spring onion. Wine pairing is a not straightforward because of this combination. Our suggestion would be a Sauvignon Blanc. We enjoyed a glass of Domaine La Tour Beaumont Haut-Poitou Sauvignon Blanc 2019. It has clear fruity and citrus notes and it is well balanced with a good combination of freshness and roundness.
What You Need
One Chioggia Beet
Excellent Olive Oil
White Wine Vinegar
Spring Onion (or Scallion)
What You Do
The day before wash the beetroot and wrap in aluminium foil. Leave in the oven on 180° Celsius or 355° Fahrenheit for 60+ minutes. Cool and store in the refrigerator. The next day peel the beet and use a vegetable slicer (or mandoline) to make ridges. This will not only make the dish look more inviting, it will also enhance the taste given there is more coated surface and more air when chewing it. Make a simply, relatively acidic dressing with olive oil and vinegar. Thinly slice the spring onion; best to use the green part only. Test a small slice of beet with the dressing and adjust when necessary. Perhaps some fresh white pepper? If you’re happy with the combination, toss the slices with the dressing making sure everything is nicely coated. Plate up and sprinkle the sliced spring onion on top of it.
A cabbage or a turnip? Or both? Kohlrabi (or turnip-rooted cabbage, German cabbage) is a bit different from other vegetables. It’s the swollen stem of a plant. It looks like a turnip, but it actually grows above the ground, hence the leaves and the fairly thick skin. Kohlrabi is not the most popular of vegetables, probably because it requires rather long cooking and the taste is a bit bland. The good news is that when you prepare the kohlrabi in a hot oven, you will have an easy to peel and very tasty vegetable. Its flavour is sweet, it comes with a touch of spiciness and its texture is a real surprise: juicy and crunchy! The thinly sliced and lightly coated kohlrabi in combination with pickled dried radish is a great vegetarian starter, one that you will remember.
Sake or Wine Pairing
Best choice is a mild, dry, floral sake but a glass of white wine is also a good idea. Go for a Pinot Blanc or a German Grauburgunder. In general a white wine with medium body and aromas of ripe white fruit and flowers.
What You Need
Light and Normal Soy sauce
Pickled Dried Radish
What You Do
Set your oven to 200˚ Celsius or 390˚ Fahrenheit. Transfer the kohlrabi to the oven without wrapping it in foil, so ‘as is’. Leave it for 60 minutes. Now turn your oven to 235˚ Celsius or 455˚ Fahrenheit for 15 minutes or until the kohlrabi is slightly charred (see picture). Let cool, transfer to the refrigerator and use the next day. Start making the dressing by adding light soy sauce to a small bowl. Add a teaspoon of mirin and a teaspoon of rice vinegar. We also add a teaspoon of normal soy sauce to give the dressing a bit more oomph. Remove the skin of the kohlrabi (be generous) and thinly slice the kohlrabi, either with a mandoline slicer or with a cheese slicer. Now it’s time to improve the dressing: combine small slices of kohlrabi with the dressing, taste and keep adjusting (soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar) until you’re happy. Coat each slice with the dressing, plate up and serve immediately with the chopped pickled dried radish.