Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Cooking in a Castle" - [Tour de France Ride] Ratatouille

Date I made this recipe:  July 22, 2012 (The end of the Tour de France)

Cooking in a Castle – The Royal Recipes of France by William I. Kaufman
Published by:  Bonanza Books
© 1965
Recipe:  [Ride] Ratatouille – p. 118

Well, today marks the end of Le Tour de France 2012 and thank goodness for that!  Even my husband, the most avid fan there is, was breathing a sigh of relief.  A three-week bicycle race is just a little much—I mean all the spills, chills and excitement lead to exhaustion and we’re just arm-chair spectators!  Can you imagine actually biking the thing?  I cannot.

Biking, and well, actually, most outdoor sports are not my thing.  When I was a kid, my bike was a one-speed (me!) Schwinn.  But my hubby has taken to bike riding like a duck takes to water and so every year, without fail, we watch…and watch…and watch.

This year’s Tour winner was Bradley Wiggins from Britain.  I feel like I’m a game show announcer when I say that “this is Bradley’s first tour win and Britain’s’ first win since the dawn of time”…or the first year of Le Tour – whichever comes first.  But poor Bradley—every time the British announcers talked about “Bradley Wiggins,” I couldn’t help but have myself an Eliza Doolittle moment from My Fair Lady and sing “Just you wait, Bradley Wiggins, just you wait.”  I’m glad I have a patient husband.

So Bradley won and there was much British rejoicing…in that most understated way they have.  Ahem.  There were also loud cheers for the man known as “The Manx Missile” – Mark Cavendish, another Brit who charged ahead in the last seconds of the last stage of the Tour – Le Champs-Elysees, - to win that stage.  A few days earlier, Mark came up out of no where to sprint to the finish line, causing one of the front runners to wave a hand in disgust with an expression of “Aw, crap, not HIM again!” on his face. I think that was my favorite moment of Le Tour.

Any who, as always I do learn a lot of things about the Tour from watching the stages and talking to Andy, my personal guide to all things “Tour.”  So to start, there are 20 stages to the tour, some of which go through the mountains, some of which are flat (and suited for sprinters) and some of which are time trials.  The last stage, stage 20, is a circle tour of Le Champs-Elysees in Paris.  Since this is the last stage, most riders are taking it easy, hoping not to crash and many of them drink champagne on their final laps out on the road, although once they cross the Champs, it’s all business, all the time and the champagne goes away. .  I could be all about biking if I could sip champagne while riding.

So, bear with me as I try to explain the complexities of this sport:  each stage has a winner in the sprinter category (green jersey) and, if applicable, the King of the Mountain (white and red polka dot jersey).  The “best” young rider jersey (white) is awarded to a rider under 26 years old based on the lowest combined times for all stages.  This year’s white jersey went to American Tejay van Garderen.  The coveted yellow jersey, signifying the tour’s overall leader is also awarded to the person with the lowest combined times regardless of age.  This year’s winner of the yellow jersey and therefore the Tour was the aforementioned Bradley Wiggins.

Now then – complicating things just a bit is a group of riders called the “peloton.”   The peloton is a group of riders who all end up crossing the finish line more or less together.  Sometimes the overall tour leader (yellow jersey) rides with the peloton, sometimes not.  But anyway, the most important thing you should know is that the riders in the peloton are all awarded the same finish time.  So if Bradley Wiggins, for example, didn’t speed across the finish line first but ended up in the peloton (usually less than a minute behind the stage winner), then he and everyone else gets awarded the same finish time and therefore the same number of points.  So—clear as French mud, right?  It has only taken me I don’t know how many Tours to figure this all out – barely.  I’m now at the point where I can identify some of the riders so I consider myself quite the expert! 

Besides watching the cyclists, the high entertainment of this three-week event is watching and listening to race announcer, Phil Ligett.  Phil is from England and like most English residents their pronunciation of different words has me in stitches.  Phil, for example, absolutely butchered one of the riders first names, Luis (pronounced lew-eeees) by calling him Louis (Lew-is).  No.  No in whatever language you want – no.  But time and time again, there was Phil with his “Lewis.”  There was also a Swiss rider with an Italian last name that he mauled each and every time he said it.  But still in all, I love Phil.  There’s just something about him that’s just adorable.  By the way, the one year he talked about foods bikers eat and used the British pronunciation of “banan-er” for banana had me doubled over laughing. I mean, I’m sorry, but does anyone see an “er” in that word?

Okay, so the riders were off and running first through Belgium and then hither and yon through France and as you might expect, they rode by (in a burning hurry) many French castles.  And this, children, is how I tied everything in this blog together!

Cooking in a Castle – The Royal Recipes of France – is a new acquisition for me.  I bought it for pennies on the dollar at the Bloomington Crime Prevention Association mega book sale in June.  I just like books that seem interesting and of course, are inexpensive as well.

The first part of this book consists of French recipes that were French royalty favorites while the second part of this book includes chateau photos and even has a map showing where they all are with a bit of history about each one.  Add a bit about French wines (well, bien sur!) and notes for tourists about each castle and voila, you are ready to roll. (That said, my husband and I are jaded travelers and to us, if you’ve seen one chateau, you’ve seen them all.  But don’t let us stop you.)

Recipes in this book ranged from lobster (tres, tres cher) to ragout of duck to simple strawberries (with liqueur, naturellement!).  Since it is still hotter than Hades in Minneapolis, I went with a very simple but delicious ratatouille. 

I was first introduced to ratatouille by my French friend, Edith (pronounced “Ay-deet”).  She and her grandmother made it for me and some friends when they visited me many years ago, and then when I went to Provence to visit them, I just had to have some more.  I’ve seen various and sundry vegetables used in ratatouille, like zucchini and mushrooms but I stuck to the book’s recipe with one exception:  I cut the vegetables into cubes instead of slicing them as directed as that is what I am used to.  Flavor-wise, I doubt it made one bit of difference.

As the recipe says, ratatouille is one of those great dishes that can be eaten hot or cold and I’ve had it both ways.  This was super-simple to make and great to eat.  The next day, I got creative and used it as a pasta sauce and it was tres bon!  (As an aside, I can’t help but think of a Steve Martin comedy routine from years ago – “You Naïve Americans” - where he talked about visiting Paris and it went something like this:  “[The French word for] eggs is ouefs.  Butter is buerre.  It’s like those French have a word for everything!”)

And that concludes Le Tour de France 2012:  coming up in mere days – the 2012 Olympics.  So move over honey, and hand me the remote because there’s swimming to watch!

A bientot, France!!

Ratatouille – yields 12 servings
Olive oil
2 pounds eggplant, peeled and sliced
1 pound squash, peeled and sliced
1 pound green pepper, sliced
2 pounds tomatoes, quartered but not peeled
4 or 5 garlic cloves, crushed
2 onions, sliced
1 large bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, tarragon, celery, bay leaf)
1 teaspoon tarragon, chopped
Salt and pepper

Saute lightly in olive oil the eggplant, squash, and green pepper in deep saucepan.  Add tomatoes, garlic, bouquet garni, and tarragon.  Cover.  Simmer over low heat for one hour.  Serve hot.  In the summer it can be served cold.

Ann’s Note:  I didn’t make a bouquet garni (i.e. all spices tied up in cheesecloth) but threw in a handful of parsley, thyme, tarragon and two small bay leafs; I was also out of celery so no celery.  The flavors were fine and actually enhanced the ratatouille.

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