Q. Where to buy semolina flour in Montreal? (From Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec, Canada)
A. The Dante Hardware store, at 6851 rue Saint-Dominique, is owned by the Faita family, who are known for their great Italian cooking. The store carries special Italian ingredients as well as cookware. I bought my pasta machine there and they gave me a free bag of semolina flour as a bonus!
Q. Why can't you buy beef stock? (From Holyoke Massachusetts, USA)
A. Yes, you can buy beef stock. There are several brands available in TetraPak containers (which are not recyclable!), and also in cans. You can doctor them up to make them more palatable, but in that case you might as well make your own. Try my super-simple beef stock recipe.
Q. On what page of Mastering the Art of French Cooking is the chocolate cream pie recipe? (From Melbourne, Australia)
A. There is no recipe for chocolate cream pie in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This is not surprising, since chocolate cream pie is not a French dish.
Q.How much water must you add on a cube of beef stock? (From Bahrain)
A. Have you tried reading the label? I checked at the store and every single brand of beef, chicken and vegetable bouillon had very precise directions. I happen to have a package of Knorr chicken cubes at home. Each cube weighs 12 grams and the directions read: “HOW TO PREPARE: Dissolve 1 cube in 2 cups (550 mL) boiling water.” There’s also a phone number and a website URL. So, if your cubes weigh 12 grams, you should dissolve them in 2 cups or 550 mL of boiling water.
Q.What is the best cut of beef for beef bourguignon? (From New York, NY, USA)
A. The chuck, from the shoulder, has the ideal texture and marbling. I sometimes use cross-rib because my butcher often has it at a discount; it has a texture that I like but you have to watch it because it can dry out. Avoid any cut that is too lean. You need some fat and gristle for the long, slow cooking.
OF ALL THE LUSCIOUS DESSERTS that we served in my various restaurants, none was ever as beloved as this chocolate mousse cake. It got to the point where I had to have the recipe pre-printed to fill all the requests.
It may look complicated, but all it is is an assemblage of chocolate meringue and chocolate mousse layers, decorated with broken up pieces of meringue and icing sugar.
But oh! the taste and texture are so special: imagine the crunchiness and melt-in-the-mouthingness of meringue and the creamy richness of chocolate mousse, combined – a marriage arranged by the fairies, surely.
EQUIPMENT: you'll need 2 large baking sheets, a large pastry bag (preferably two) and two decorating tips – a 1/2 inch and a 1/4 inch, some parchment paper and a piece of cardboard cut into a 10 by 5-1/2-inch oval (26 x 14 cm).
MAKING THE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE CAKE
Chocolate Meringue Layers
5 egg whites
5-1/2 oz (150 g) icing sugar (one cup, loosely packed)
1-1/4 oz (35 g) plain cocoa powder (1/2 cup)
5-1/2 oz (150 g) white sugar (1/2 cup + 1 TB)
DID I TELL YOU that I live in a village that has only 1500 inhabitants? If this were France, or Spain, or Italy, that wouldn't be a problem. But this is Eastern Canada and the eating habits of the locals are very conservative.
Even the nearest city – Fredericton – is a big disappointment in the gourmet ingredient category.
Therefore, when I see something fresh at one of the local supermarkets, I grab it.
This week, it was zucchini AND sweet peppers. I got two nice green, fat, fresh courgettes and a package of six mixed sweet peppers. My mouth watered and my tastebuds yelled, "ratatouille"! (I know, it's supposed to have eggplant as well, but why be greedy?)
Which brings us back to Julia Child. I had had ratatouille in France – and frankly the quality was uneven – but it was in Mastering the Art of French Cooking that I learned the true secret of good ratatouille: all the ingredients must be cooked separately, so that they will remain recognizable. Mushy is not an option!
Ah, but, what IS ratatouille? Where does it come from?
What could be more evocative of the splendors of mediterranean cuisine than ratatouille? Ratatouille is a vegetable stew (tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers), sautéed separately or together in olive oil. One adds garlic, olives (ratatouille niçoise), sometimes onions as in Languedoc. The dish has spread all around the Mediterranean. And so the sicilian caponata [...] includes mushrooms, olives and a stalk of celery, the whole deglazed with a splash of vinegar.
At its origin, in 1778, the word first designated a coarse stew, a coarse mixture. At the end of the 19th century, in military slang, the abbreviation "rata" designated a mixture of beans and potatoes, and, later, a mixture of vegetables and meat. It was only during the 20th century that the word ratatouille acquired the meaning that we give it today.
The name is recent, the dish ancient, but what is it all about? It is amusing to look at its elements one by one and to determine their origin [...] which leads us to conclude that the dish could not have been invented before the 16th century, and probably during the 18th century.
(Translated and abridged from La ratatouille ou les avatars de la mondialisation des légumes [www.canalacademie.com].)
Ratatouille is really a summer recipe – for us here it would be at the end of the summer, when the eggplant and the tomatoes are at their best. This is a winter recipe, hence the canned tomatoes.
1 lb. (500 g) zucchini (courgettes)
2 green peppers
2 red peppers
1/2 lb (250 g) green beans (optional)
12 medium mushrooms
1 large white onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 28-oz (796 ml) can of whole Italian-style tomatoes
1/4 cup of chopped parsley
A sprinkling of thyme
Salt and pepper
Cut the zucchini into 1/2-inch slices (and the eggplant, if you're using them), in nice 1-inch by 1/2-inch chunks.
Place them in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 or 2 tsp of salt, mix with the hands.
Set aside and allow to sweat for about half an hour.
Drain and dry well.
Heat some oil in a large frying pan and brown the zucchini (and eggplant) pieces lightly on both sides; transfer to a bowl.
Cut the peppers into 1/2-inch strips and sauté in the same oil; transfer to the same bowl as the zucchini/eggplant.
Slice the onions and cook in the oil until just beginning to brown; add the mushrooms and sauté them a bit, then add the garlic, the thyme, the parsley and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Cook the (optional) green beans in plenty of salted boiling water until they're still slightly al dente. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.
Transfer all the vegetables, in layers, to a covered casserole.
Drain the tomatoes to remove the liquid; chop them coarsely and pour them over the vegetables in the casserole.
Cover and cook for 15 minutes, checking from time to time to keep the vegetables from scorching on the the bottom; adjust the heat if necessary.
Continue cooking, or not, depending on how you wish to serve your ratatouille.
AS SAUCE FOR PASTA: Ratatouille makes a very good vegetarian sauce for pasta; in fact, that's what I made this batch for. It's great with parmesan cheese! I like it fairly runny for this purpose.
BAKED RATATOUILLE CASSEROLE: Top with mozzarella, parmesan, breadcrumbs, whatever you like; bake in the oven till the cheese begins to bubble and brown.
RATATOUILLE TART: Continue cooking on fairly high heat to evaporate most of the liquid, or strain the liquid out. Let cool and spoon into a tart shell. Top with mozzarella, parmesan, anchovies, olives, whatever strikes your fancy. Bake.
AS A QUICHE: Use a runny ratatouille and cool it first. Fill a partially cooked tart shell with the vegetables, pour over them a mixture of 3 eggs and 1-1/2 to 2 cups of cream (just to cover the vegetables; don't overfill); top with parmesan cheese. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes.
AS A PIZZA TOPPING: Continue cooking on fairly high heat to evaporate ALL the liquid, or strain the liquid out. Spread on top of pizza dough, add mozzarella cheese, and bake according to your usual pizza recipe.
AS A TOPPING FOR BRUSCHETTA: Raise heat until all liquid has evaporated (stir often to prevent burning) -- or strain the liquid out; grill a thick slice of French bread, or ciabatta, brush with olive oil and add ratatouille.
AS A VEGETABLE: Goes great with lamb, chicken, beef – almost any meat that is simply grilled or or barbecued.
AS A COLD SIDE DISH/FIRST COURSE: Don't forget that ratatouille is just as good cold as hot, and, like most stews, it's better the next day.
COOKING RATATOUILLE IN THE SLOW COOKER
I've seen instructions for cooking ratatouille in a crockpot, but what's the point? By the time you've finished sautéeing all the separate ingredients, your ratatouille is about 15 minutes short of being ready to eat!
Reserve your slow cooker for dishes that benefit from a long, slow sojourn at a low heat.
Of all the ratatouille recipes in my files, the simplest one I've seen is the one in my vintage Larousse Gastronomique:
Peel and slice 6 aubergines and 6 Italian marrows (courgettes), sprinkle with salt and leave covered with a weighted plate for 1 hour. Slice 2 large onions, skin, remove pips and cut up 8 tomatoes. Slice 2 peppers very thinly, removing core and seeds. Chop 3 garlic cloves.
Heat 1 cup olive oil in a heavy pan, fry onion until slightly coloured, add the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, then add aubergines, courgettes, peppers and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, add a bouquet garni and cook, covered, for an hour. This dish may be served hot or cold.
So much for cooking everything separately!
So, which is the best ratatouille recipe? Yours, of course!
NOTE: This French website has very good step-by-step directions for the preparation of ratatouille and you don't need to know French to appreciate the photos.