And now for something completely different: I’ve been cooking a lot more in recent months, and I thought maybe it was time to try writing a bit about it. My goals for these kinds of articles are twofold:
* It was an attempt to make Pad Thai without following any particular recipe. It came out looking like a pile of grayish sludge and tasted like vomit.
First, I want to present the process of exploring new recipes from the perspective of an enthusiast/amateur. I don’t intend to portray myself as an expert (because I am not one), but rather as a hobbyist cook learning on the go. Don’t take my methods as gospel. I tamper with recipes willfully (and I will say why where relevant), and you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment either. Only once have my experiments produced a result so dreadful that I couldn’t eat it.*
Second, I want to provide a window into what a vegetarian diet looks like. I’ve met a lot of people who express confusion over what vegetarian food entails, and it’s my hope that non-vegetarians who happen across these articles may get a better sense of the scope of my home cooking menu. It’s far from limited–I could make a new recipe every week and never run out of new dishes to try.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in to my most recent dish: confit byaldi!
I’ve made ratatouille (which is essentially a French vegetable stew) many times in the past from the recipe in Mollie Katzen’s The Moosewood Cookbook. Hers is a delicious recipe and I highly recommend it, but I was always puzzled by one thing: why did Pixar’s interpretation of the recipe appear to be a weird little stripy stack, rather than the coarsely-chopped stew I was familiar with?
Well, Wikipedia had the answer, as it usually does. The ratatouille prepared in the movie is a specific variant known as confit byaldi, which is made with thinly-sliced vegetables baked for an extended period of time.
This proved to be one of the more-complicated things I’ve made recently, so it seemed fitting that it ought to be the first dish I write about.
The base of confit byaldi is a piperade, a Basque sauce made from onion, bell pepper, and tomato. The first step was to roast the bell peppers: I sliced them in half and popped them in the toaster oven for about 20 minutes. Once the skins begin to blacken, the peppers are done roasting, and the skins can be easily peeled off and discarded. From there, the peppers are chopped fine and sauteed along with onion, garlic, tomato, and a few herbs. Here’s the piperade, in progress:
While the piperade was piperading I went to work on the vegetables: eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and tomato. For primarily aesthetic reasons you want all the slices to be approximately the same in diameter, so Chinese-style (long, narrow) eggplants and plum tomatoes are used. I wanted the slices to be thin and uniform, so I obtained a mandoline cutter. (Yes, I got it specifically to make this, but hopefully it will prove useful in future recipes as well.) The mandoline did a good job overall, though it did occasionally fail to completely cut through the rubbery skin of the eggplant.
Once the piperade was ready, I spread it across the bottom of a casserole dish and laid out the vegetables into an organized working area:
One word about the vegetables: they go farther than you expect them to. I underestimated them while I was shopping and convinced myself to buy extra, just in case. The spread seen in the image above is made up of just one zucchini, one summer squash, one eggplant, and three plum tomatoes. It doesn’t look like a lot before they’re sliced, but it’s plenty. I filled my entire casserole dish and had to use a second smaller dish for overflow. (The vegetables in the second dish baked fine despite lacking a bed of piperade, but I would recommend saving some piperade for a second dish if you think you’ll need one. Be sure to oil the dish if you bake without the piperade.)
Anyway, here is the prepared dish, ready to go in the oven:
The confit bakes at 275F for two hours(!), then at 400F for another 30 minutes, to brown the vegetables a bit. Here it is at the end:
I served mine over orzo, topped with fresh parsley and oil-cured olives. A little feta cheese on the side isn’t a bad idea, either. This is probably woefully inauthentic by any standard, but it tastes good! (Some of the recipes I looked at also suggest a balsamic vinaigrette but I skipped it, mostly because I have four kinds of vinegar in my cabinet already and enough is enough.)
So, after four hours of work, how was it? Pretty good! The vegetables come out of the oven incredibly tender, and the different flavors mix together beautifully. If looks are important to you in cooking, this dish is hard to beat in that department, with its little multicolored disks and brilliant red sauce. It produces quite a few servings, too, enough for maybe five or so people. The one thing I’ll say about it is that it’s not particularly filling, even with the pasta added. If you want something light this could be a benefit, though.
So that’s confit byaldi. It’s time-consuming (although more than half of the time is just baking), but other than that I would consider it to be pretty easy to make, all things told, and probably suitable for any skill level. Look, it’s easy enough for an animated rat without any formal training, so surely you can handle it.