Tomorrow the secret menu will officially be one year old, and my oh my has it been a wild year. Not only did I learn how to cook a little better and take pictures a whole lot better, but I also learned how to admit my mistakes in a public forum and share my personal business with strangers all over the world. And you know what, strangers (and friends and family)? You’ve been pretty cool about all that. Thank you.
In a funny way, the blog has also come full circle. As I write this, JM is out of town and I’ve been procrastinating with the help of elaborate meals — just like this time last year. But lest we think this is 2011 all over again, I should remind us that January of last year involved no dogs, no cast-iron skillets, no incipient spouses, and no eye twitches. (Seriously, what is up with this eye twitch? It’s been going on for the past two months, and happens every time I sneeze. Part of me wishes it was more visible to outsiders, for entertainment purposes — as it stands, it just annoys the heck out of me.)
Anyway, to celebrate a year of kitchen-induced oversharing, I’ve decided to post one of my most elaborate recipes yet. It’s so elaborate, in fact, that it took me three days to make: one day to make the ratatouille for dinner, one day to forget about the leftovers, and one more day to remember that Le Grainne Cafe in New York serves an egg dish called œuf maison that features a fried egg, goat cheese, and ratatouille, and that I actually had all those things in the fridge.
If you type “ratatouille” into Google, you’ll learn a few things. First, you’ll learn that the internet does not distinguish between French vegetable stews and American cartoon rats. Second, you’ll learn that the thinly sliced ratatouille made by that cartoon rat in the film, Ratatouille, has been reproduced by cooks all over the web. And third, you’ll learn that, even without the rat-ratatouille, there are about a zillion very similar recipes for the dish.
I decided that the easiest way to handle this was to look at the Saveur website and eject everything even remotely complicated from their ratatouille recipe. It’s like, no, I don’t have herbes de provence on hand and, no, I’m not going to make a dainty little satchet of herbes de provence at 7pm on a Saturday. I’m also not going to use six cloves of garlic because I don’t want my dinner guests to have to cancel their Sunday date plans. After a few adjustments like this, the recipe became pretty much perfect. Details below:
Secret Menu’s Œuf Maison
(The ratatouille serves four, and the œuf serves one — so it all depends on how much you’ve got leftover)
-1/2 cup and 2 tbs of extra-virgin olive oil, separated
-1/2 tsp chopped fresh sage
-1/2 tsp dried lavender
-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-1 large yellow onion, diced
-1 bay leaf
-1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, stripped from their stems
-2 zucchini, scrubbed and diced
-1 eggplant, peeled and diced
-1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
-1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
-5-10 fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and sliced (should amount to 2-3 cups of flesh, with the seeds and cores removed)
-kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
-1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
-1 egg per person
-1 oz. goat cheese per person
You’ll need to do a little prep work ahead of time: slice ‘n’ dice all the vegetables, and put just the eggplant cubes in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with kosher salt and combine, and then move the salted eggplant into a colander that you then place over the mixing bowl. Cover the colander/bowl with a towel and put it in the fridge for 2-3 hours to let the eggplant sweat a bit. You’ll also want to use this time to blanch, peel, and slice the tomatoes.
Later on: heat the 1/2 cup of oil in a medium to large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and sauté for about 5 minutes. Stir in the sage, lavender, and bay leaf, and sauté for another minute or two. The onions should be soft, but the garlic shouldn’t be too brown.
Stir in the zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. Sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper. Sauté uncovered for about a minute or two, to combine everything evenly. Then cover the pot and reduce the heat to very low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the chopped parsley when it’s done.
Two days later (or the same day, if you’re really in it to win it), reheat a little more than 1 cup of the ratatouille. Take an ounce of goat cheese and 1/2 tsp of any herbs you’d like (I used fresh thyme), mix together with a little salt and pepper, and press into a small disk. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and fry the goat cheese for about 1 minute on each side, until crispy and brown. Set the goat cheese aside, and use the remaining oil to fry your egg. I like mine sunny side up or over easy, because the yolk mixing in with the ratatouille is trés delicious.
Serve the egg and goat cheese over the ratatouille. Eat in warm weather (either inside by the fire or outside in the hammock, depending on what January looks like outside your window).