“Classic” Ratatouille

Is there such a thing? I could write a long piece on everything you need to know about ratatouille, but there is no point because Felicity Cloake already did an incredible job of doing just that in this piece for The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2010/jul/15/how-to-make-perfect-ratatouille

The long and short of it is there is no “classic” recipe, only classic ingredients, and beyond that the world is your oyster! After a few tries, I decided Felicity has pretty much nailed it with her Stew-Then-Bake combo approach.

The best thing about ratatouille is its versatility. Pretty much anyone can eat it! Its #glutenfree, #dairyfree and #vegan. Its refreshing at the end of a warm summer day, and compliments a BBQ perfectly. On a cold winter evening its warming, homely and comforting. Its basically your 5 a day in one dish. And it can be whipped up in minutes if you wish.

Proportions aren’t important, build it to your taste. Here’s how we put our stamp on it:

  1. Start with a marinara style sauce. Chop some onion – as fine or coarse as you fancy – and soften in olive oil. When its nearly ready, add in some minced garlic and mixed herbs (dried or fresh bouquet garni). Next a dollop of tomato puree and some grated carrot,and finally some tinned tomatoes. Simmer a little to thicken and set aside.
  2. Thinly slice a selection of vegetables. Try to choose ones that keep their structure when cooked, and slice nice and thin with ease. I’ve used aubergine, courgette and butternut squash.
  3. Choose your dish. I use cocotte pots (shown below, £2.99 each at B&M) but any ovenproof dish with a well-fitting lid will do. It doesnt have to be individual portions either – why not make a family sharer?
  4. Start to layer up. Begin with a good thick layer of marinara style sauce as this will boil up through the other veg once in the oven and prevent the slices from burning to the dish base. Fill your dish with as much veg and as many layers as you like, finishing with a neatly arranged top layer. Drizzle with olive oil and top with a sprig of fresh thyme.
  5. Into the oven, 120 degrees, for around an hour, or until the veg is soft all the way through. A bigger, deeper dish will take longer. The low temperature means it won’t burn fast if you leave it bit longer than planned, and a well fitting lid will prevent the dish from drying out.

Eat it as soon as its cool enough, or if you’ve planned ahead you can refridgerate for two days. The flavour will mature too, so it will get even better.A39D0594-7CD7-4446-AD5D-FAFC9686361D (1)

Bon appetit!

“So, there’s a few things I can’t eat…”

Every day I get requests for meal that are gluten free, dairy free, free from eggs, vegetarian, vegan, free from onions, “my son cant eat meat protein”….genuinely, the list goes on. Every chef will be able to relate to knowing that waiting just outside your restaurant there is another new and exciting dietary requirement just waiting to trip in.

Some dishes are carefully planned, prepared and waiting to be consumed by customers in paroxysms of delight that they are so easily accommodated. Other dishes are spur of the moment inspirations that have to be executed in 15 minutes tops. So this is my opportunity to document some ideas from both categories, for the benefit of people who have time on their side more than food.

Without further ado…lets start simple. Gluten free food. Sounds a bit scary right? It definitely scares the living daylights out of people sitting in front of their gluten-intolerance diagnosis for the first, wondering how to cut that out of their diet. Suddenly they are going to HAVE to fork out for expensive free-from breads, biscuits, cakes, beer. Well here’s a thing…firstly no-one NEEDS any of those things in their lives. Secondly, they can totally enjoy ALL of those things and more. Chocolate doesn’t contain gluten. Nor do steak, vegetables, spices or wine.

What is gluten anyway? In simple terms gluten refers to a group of storage proteins found in wheat and wheat derivatives (like the durum wheat used to make pasta), barley, oats, rye and related products such as the malt used in real ale production. So we’re talking bread, pasta, porridge, sauces thickened with flour. Soy based products also contain gluten.

Ever noticed how Gluten Free bread and cakes don’t have the same texture or softness of the real deal? That’s because Gluten is the protein which gives these products their “elasticity”. Bakers talk about kneading their dough to build up the gluten content and this is important to give structure to bread, so gluten free alternatives often seem dry and crumbly in comparison. On the flip side, a baker will avoid “working” a short pastry, in order to minimise the gluten content that could make it tough or chewy, but without any gluten, pastry can seem powdery and claggy on the palate.

So, without further ado, lets talk about a simple, easy meal to get us started on a gluten free journey. Lamb Kleftiko is traditional Greek cuisine that literally translates as “stolen lamb”. I strongly recommend you purchase yours instead – preferably from your local high street butcher rather than a supermarket. Small businesses need our support, and its much nicer to chat to someone who really values each and every customer as you shop! If you have a slow cooker, this recipe is perfect for throwing together in the morning, and coming home to wonderful smells in the evening, but if you don’t you can still enjoy it fresh from the oven. While its cooking, get down to your local charity shops and pick up a slow cooker on the cheap…they’re great.

Lamb Shank Kleftiko

This recipe serves 4. You can scale it down, or make it all and freeze the spares portions for another day!

  • 4 Individual Lamb Shankskleftiko
  • 4 Medium Potatoes – Peeled & Quartered
  • 1 Red Onion, Sliced
  • 1 Red Pepper, Sliced
  • Zest & Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 1 x 200g pack of Feta Cheese
  • 1 x 400g tin of Chopped Tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp Dried Oregano
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
  • 1/2 Cup White Wine
  • A generous Pinch of Salt & Pepper

Mix all except the lamb together in a bowl, crumbling the feta as you do. Lay the lamb into your slow cooker and tuck the mixed ingredients in around them. If you’re using an oven, lay the shanks in a single layer in a deep tray – not too spacious as the meat could dry out – and tuck the remaining ingredients in around them Cover with a double layer of tin foil.

In the slow cooker, cook on medium for 9-10 hours, or high for 6 hours, until the lamb is tender. In the oven, roast for 3 and 1/2 hours covered, and a further 30 minutes uncovered, at 140-150 degrees centigrade.

Serve Hot and Delicious coated in the sauce – I like to pair mine with a fresh green salad with cucumber and olives. Still Gluten Free!

 

 

For when you're cooking for "that friend" with dietary requirements!