This glorious recipe popped up on Plum Kitchen last week and I could not let it pass me by. Aside from sounding utterly delicious, it was great timing, as we'd invited friends of ours to dinner. Said friends are vegetarian, and though I don't have trouble cooking vegetarian fare (having been one myself for about five years - I struggle more with meat!) it is nice to discover new and exciting recipes that fit the brief and this seemed perfect. It has that extra-special factor, from the warm cheese and the crumble topping and the pine nuts, and is clearly supposed to be a vegetable dish; I dislike dishes that claim to be vegetarian only because the meat has been removed - I reckon that if it's a good vegie recipe it's been built from ingredients not made from animals. Restaurants, take note! ;-)
As I was assembling this I realised it sums up a reasonably brief period of my life in food - when I was 18 I hopped on a plane to England, following the traditional Kiwi OE path, and landed a job as an au pair/nanny. The family I worked for happened to have a holiday home in Provence, France, and as a result I spent a few weeks of the summer in this lovely location, and experiencing food I'd never had before. My young charge had some of her friends to stay, and the mother of one of them taught me to make ratatouille - something I'd never encountered before, but loved. I also dined out many times with the family I worked for, and my sheltered Kiwi tastebuds were taken on a huge journey of discovery, which included goats' cheese, had for the first time at an outdoor restaurant in the late evening, warm as part of a salad, and pine nuts, as a feature of a lazy summer lunch at a tiny village square on a scorching afternoon. Funny how well food memories can stick - I vividly remember all these incidents (as well as my first encounter with escargot; eating far too many croissant for breakfast every day, washed down with much blood orange juice; and scouring the local market for nougat, cheese cut from a giant wheel, and any other treats which were present on a given day) despite the passage of time which should have faded them.
Anyway, back to the present, and the ratatouille, goats' cheese and pine nuts are combining to make one fabulous meal. I feel that I have neglected ratatouille, because it really is quite easy - once the vegies are prepped it cooks itself, almost - and the flavour belies its simplicity.
The crumble is what makes the dish extra special, and if you have a food processor it's super easy. It's really just a mix of flour, butter and parmesan, and once they're all rubbed together you add the toasted pine nuts and mix to combine.
As far as toasting goes, I find a non-stick frypan is easier to control than popping them in the oven - it makes them harder to forget about, and you can scoop out any that cook faster easily. After my walnut disaster with the roasted beetroot salad the other day I figured I should stick to this method. ;-)
When the ratatouille is all cooked you crumble some goats' cheese over it (I used feta, but a nice soft cheese would also do well), and then sprinkle over the crumble and pop it in the oven. I used our cast iron pot, which is great as it keeps it all to one dirty dish, but you can just transfer it to a baking dish if you don't have any stove-to-oven cookware.
I found the sharp cheese contrasted excellently with the sweet ratatouille, and I loooooved the butter crumble on top. I actually ate leftovers (of which there were less than I expected, always a good sign) for lunch for two days after making it - and I can say that this will absolutely get made again, because it was delicious.
What would you serve to vegetarian dinner guests? I'd love to know your best vegie recipes!
Ratatouille Goats' Cheese Crumble (adapted from Plum Kitchen)
For the Ratatouille
4 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 kg tomatoes (6-7 tomatoes)
Handful of fresh basil
Goat cheese crumble topping
100g cold butter
150g plain flour
30g parmesan cheese
70g pine nuts
Freshly ground black pepper
100g goat cheese
Finely chop the onion and crush the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat. Cut the aubergine and peppers into chunks and add them, stirring to combine.
Skin the tomatoes, by putting them in a bowl and covering with boiling water. Wait about 30 seconds, then pour out the hot water and cover with ice cold water. After a minute or two remove from the bowl, and peel the skin with your fingers - make a little cut in the skin with a knife to get started if you need to. Cut them in half and squeeze out the seeds as if you were squeezing a lemon.
When the vegetables have softened, chop and add the zucchini, and add tomatoes and basil. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook for a further 15-20 minutes until soft. While the vegetables are cooking, preheat the oven to 180 C.
To prepare the topping, cut the butter into cubes and blits in a food-processor with the flour and parmesan, or rub together with your fingers. When it resembles breadcrumbs, mix in the toasted pine nuts and some pepper.
When the ratatouille is cooked, spoon it into a baking dish, and crumble the cheese over the top.
Cover with the crumble mixture and bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden and crispy. Stand for a few minutes before serving, as the ratatouille gets very hot. Serves 6-8