08 April 2008

Ratatouille and Polpette

I am often thankful for being so blessed in life - with a great family, a roof over my head, lovely friends who enjoy food as much as I do, and just as importantly, a kitchen with almost all the equipment I need (except a mandolin for, you know, those frustrating days of imperfectly julienned carrots and zucchini).

I was also fortunate to find someone who enjoyed cooking and eating as much as I did when I was overseas for three long years. Of course, I wished the kitchen were better equipped, and wished I didn't have to worry about taking up more than my fair share of space in the refrigerator that my 7 other flatmates shared with me. But I was grateful for a kitchen at all.

So when Addy asked if I could lend my kitchen to her 2 colleagues from France and Italy, I was more than happy to offer my home for a night. It was a fun and relaxing night for me since all I had to do was set the table, help crack eggs, point out the dried oregano on the herb rack and offer wine. In the meantime, N the Frenchman, was busy chopping and watching over multiple pots of peppers, onions, zucchinis and aubergines at one time. In a different part of my tiny kitchen (and by different part I mean 3 feet away), A the Italian was mixing the meat with eggs, breadcrumbs and herbs.

At the end of the night, we had a feast of Fusilli Carbonara, Sicillian Polpette (meatballs), Ratatouille, and to top it all off, Strawberry Tiramisu from Val.

As we loosened our belts and indulged in numerous portions of everything, N explained that there's no fixed recipe for ratatouille. While adding potatoes to it (as suggested by Val) is not common, one can add absolutely anything to it. N's version of it was tender, with each chunk of vegetable soft and still recognisable. Some like theirs mushy and a great big indistinguishable mass. Others like theirs resembling something along the lines of big chunks of vegetables in a tomato sauce, which I believe is delicious in itself and deserving more credit than my poor description affords it.

I thought that N's version was excellent, and not to mention tedious. Each vegetable had to be stir-fried separately, presumably to retain the flavour of each vegetable before mixing them altogether in a big pot together with a sauce comprised of chopped, peeled tomatoes, bay leaves and herbs. It was comforting and wholesome, the kind of dish I would gladly eat with rice (speaking like a true Asian) for every day of my life. Okay maybe not EVERY day, but for many days for the rest of my life.

The polpette were just as gratifying, and what I know to be common in Italian homecooking. Unlike our usual round suspects, these meat'balls' were shaped into big patties and pan-fried in oodles of sinful butter. Like most homecooked food, and like the ratatouille, one can wing the recipe and perhaps even make it your own with a signature blend of herbs?

It is arguable which was the star of the night though. While the ratatouille was truly delectable with its slight tang and full-on earthiness, the polpette were very tasty and tantalising with their slight touch of golden brown. If I really had to make a choice though, I think I'd go for the Strawberry Tiramisu which Val made and which blew all our socks off.

Okay, I guess I'm a little biased. I've known this girl since I was still sporting a bob-styled mob on my head. She's great at jumping over horizontally placed poles and irritating people with her tremendously skinny frame. But other than the time she had to cook for herself when she was in Milan for an exchange programme (during which she survived on alot of pasta, soup, and eating out), she hardly lifts a spatula, much less a whisk.

But loving Tiramisu so much, she decided to try to make it on her own one fine day. While not really difficult, it is one of those recipes that can easily go wrong. The mascarpone cheese might overwhelm the whole dish, the sponge fingers might not have been soaked through with the coffee and liquor, being too heavy handed with the cocoa powder and you'll end up with a mouthful of powder. Yet it seems that her first try was such a success that she made it again, and again, and again for a grand total of 6 times.

The strawberries provided much relief from an otherwise boring and texturally unexciting dessert. That was probably what did it for me - the strawberries. Even N, who proclaimed that he was just 'alright' with Tiramisu, ended up scraping the last bits. A, who stressed Val out by well, simply being an Italian, said that what she made was really, really good.

I'm super proud of her, and am now hunting for other recipes that don't require cooking, as it seems thats the only factor keeping her away from the kitchen. For the recipe she used, click here.


Monomonkey said...

Hi, came upon yr blog from Umami's...i'm thinking about experimenting with tiramisu too but was wondering where can i get good mascarpone? Are the supermarket brand ones good enough? Did your fren Val made her own or was it store bought?

Anonymous said...

Hi there, Val would never think about making her own mascarpone! She used store-bought and it was super yummy. I think the key is really the proportion of wet to dry ingredients you add to this recipe, and playing around with the flavouring ingredients like the cheese, coffee and coffee liquer.

JY said...

Daph! Do you have a foolproof recipe for making Ratatouille? Hope it's relatively simple for a cooking dummy like me heh... Thanks!