Fresh Idea: Cook with Friends! What to do with your less-than-perfect veggies

Jul 16, 2015

Other favourite things of mine: sun-blasted Saturdays, chocolate-covered anything, and cooking dinner with friends. I yearn for girlfriend cooking sessions on days when I’m so tired that boxed food glinting with freezer burn looks appealing. Back in the good ole days of university, it wasn’t uncommon to haphazardly stumble upon a group cooking experiment in my kitchen. It was a sight to behold: a cacophony of ingredients, recipe ideas, clinking pots and giddy laughter, and the results never disappointed. Those days are long gone, but my affection for them remains kindled. A few pals of mine called me up this week to cook dinner; it was a sweet reminder that there’s nothing quite like good food and delicious company to go along with it. Try a gathering yourself: call a friend, gather some Greenbelt ingredients, a bottle of VQA wine, make a meeting spot, and get cookin’!

These days, ratatouille is more likely to evoke images of a stout rat in a chefs’ uniform than a French dish from the hills of Provence. But ratatouille has been around a lot longer than the Pixar film of the same title, a simple stew of vegetables, most often served as an accompaniment to a larger meal. The most basic ingredients here are tomatoes and sweet peppers, and while the general consensus is that eggplant is a more recent addition, you’d be hard-pressed to find ratatouille without it today. To keep things seasonal, you can definitely omit the eggplant here, but we kept it in for texture’s sake. Ratatouille makes a great side dish for meat or fish, or serves as a tasty topper for pasta, potatoes, or rice. Since we like getting creative, we made mashed potato “nests” on which to settle our stew, but it’s even tasty all by its lonesome!

Ratatouille in Potato “Nests”
2 Red Peppers
8 Tomatoes
2 Onions, chopped
2 Zucchinis
1 Eggplant
2 Cups button mushrooms
¼ Cup cilantro
¼ Cup basil
Salt and Pepper
6 Cloves Garlic, chopped
Olive oil for cooking

Potato Nests
6 Potatoes
1 cup cheddar cheese
3 Tbsp. butter
Salt to taste

1. In a large pot, saute onions and garlic until slightly browned.
2. If you decide to use eggplant, throw eggplant in with onions and garlic, and cook for about 15 minutes.
3. Core and dice tomatoes, chop mushrooms, and slice peppers into long, thin strips. Add the veggies into the pot. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil.
4. Add salt, and let the veggies simmer on medium heat, covered, for approximately 30 minutes. Check back every few minutes to give the stew a bit of a stir. The vegetables will produce their own juices, so don’t worry about adding water. Keep cooking until the vegetables are extremely softened and melded together, but avoid turning the mixture into a puddle of mush. At this point, add herbs.
5. While stew is cooking, chop potatoes into small cubes, and boil them in a separate pot.
6. When potatoes are soft, drain water, add butter and salt, and mash them.
7. Grease a 12-cup muffin holder, and spoon a bit of mashed potatoes into each cup. Use the spoon to make a dent in the center of each cup, and spread the potatoes against the sides of each cup. If you desire, sprinkle some cheddar cheese on top.
8. Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 15 minutes, or until the mashed potatoes feel a bit hardened and the cheese has melted.
9. Remove muffin pan from the oven, and while still hot, scoop one onto a plate. Spoon a generous dollop of ratatouille on top, and enjoy!

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