Don't let the name of my blog fool you. I am a big fan of vegetarian cooking.
When I learned that Sam chose a vegan theme for this edition of Is My Blog Burning (my first!), I delved into my past to try to recall some of my favorite recipes from my veg days.
You read that right. Once upon a time over a dozen years ago, I was a strict vegetarian. The same Brett, who goes out of his way to consume odd bits like barnacles, salt cod tripe, razor clams, anything with tentacles, the snouts, feet and everything in between on the pig, and who even named his blog after the lowly sardine, was a vegetarian for three whole years.
And I don't use the term vegetarian loosely. I was not one of those annoying people who proclaims himself "vegetarian" even though he eats chicken and fish and sometimes bacon (what the hell is that all about, I'd like to know). Nary a piece of flesh passed my lips during that time.
True, although I live in San Francisco and used to cook at the Greens restaurant, I never even considered becoming a vegan, fruitarian, raw foodist (sorry Sky), or breatharian. No, I needed my eggs and dairy like a heroine addict needs smack.
Ratatouille is one of those dishes that entered my repertoire back in those days and I've continued to make it several times every summer for the last decade and a half.
First, buy the best available, freshest vegetables (duh!). But really, please don't make this in the winter. It's a summer dish.
Second, cook each vegetable separately for maximum flavor impact before combining them. This means, fire roast the peppers (a gas burner works fine), quickly sauté the eggplants and zucchini until caramelized, and slowly stew the onions and garlic until meltingly tender.
Third, ideally, cook it the day before you want to eat it to allow the flavors to blend.
To trick carnivores into proclaiming afterwards "I can't believe I ate vegan!," I've served the admittedly mushy vegetable stew in a crispy, protein-packed chickpea flour crèpe (more like the Indian dosa than the traditional French crèpe, as it doesn't require any eggs or dairy). Socca, served at street stalls on the streets of Nice like pretzels are in New York, is a Provençal cousin of ratatouille. Although I don't know if they are ever served together in their native land, I've taken the liberty to wed these two kissing cousins (and I didn't even need a shotgun) into one satisfying dish.