18 January 2012

The Tragedy of the January Paisana

Hello from the land of the Christian bumpersticker.  January is boring.  So boring I just YouTubed Red Solo CupI shouldn’t be bored.  There’s plenty to read about, write about, and obviously much to post on the back of one’s pickup truck, but I’m just not feelin’ any of it.  There are numerous tasks that could be done, but I'm uninspired. 

I’m uninspried because I have severely limited my two favorite things these past few weeks: cooking and drinking.  It makes me sound like an alcoholic chef, but sadly, I’m neither.  I’ve never been to culinary school and I’m even a second-rate drinker.  I mean if I really committed I could be good, maybe the best.  Sober and bored: I may as well be back in junior high.


I have lots of great food I put by over the summer: tomato sauces begging to adorn pasta, to braise skirt steaks, to roast lamb shanks.  I have dried heirloom beans for a colorful version of pasta e fagioli, sun-dried (ok, dehydrator-dried) tomatoes for pull-apart breads and focaccias, dried eggplant and peppers for a winter ratatouille I dreamt up in August without knowing if it could actually be executed.  I have frozen peas for creamy pasta and pancetta, pestos for capellini and pizzas, and preserved peaches and rhubarb for pies and crisps.

But that isn’t January's purpose.  January (and given the nature of the situation, February too) is for getting back into my gardening shorts.  It’s a sad situation for a vain foodie; two worlds always competing.  Believe me, I hate the way I sound right now.  I’m hoping that pouting burns as many calories as my time at the gym.

So in effort to save myself from collapsing on a snowy garden bed and purposefully freezing to death (that burns a LOT of calories), I decided to  make a few experimental side dishes to accompany the anemic low-calorie meals on which I’m certain not to overindulge, starting with Winter Ratatouille.         

Winter Ratatouille

Dried Eggplant in pieces (about 2)
Dried Sweet Italian Peppers, broken (about 10)

Frozen Shredded Zucchini (about 2)

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 pint Italian 'salsa' (canned diced tomatoes with onion, garlic, sweet peppers, parsley)
1 Tbsp Tomato Conserva
1 Tbsp Red Pepper Conserva
peperoncini to taste
Pecorino Romano for garnish
Rinse and boil dried eggplant for 5-10 minutes until tender.  Drain in colander.  Repeat with dried red peppers.  Be sure to boil and drain separately.  Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large pan.  Sautee eggplant.  Add peppers. Add zucchini.  As the mixture begins to dry, add the pint of Italian 'salsa'.  Dissolve tomato and pepper conserva in a half cup of water and add.  Cook on a low heat until all vegetables are tender.  Add peperoncini to taste and let sit for 10 minutes.  Spoon over meat or crostini, toss with pasta, or eat alone as a stew.  Once plated, garnish with pecorino romano.

Winter Ratatouille over a roasted chicken breast
It was surprisingly good.  I realize this isn't a dish everyone is going to run off to make as the likelihood of having dried eggplant and peppers is low and the likelihood of having home canned tomato concoctions and tomato and pepper conservas is even lower.  Anyone could make a ratatouille with storebought vegetables from the produce section or even freezer, and of course it's best in season, but the point of the experiment is that July and August produce can make a very versatile and even good dinner in January.  As we plan our upcoming garden season, it's important to know which items are actually worth preserving.  Furthermore, it's important to know the manner in which they should be preserved in order to best lend themselves to winter dishes.  I didn't have high hopes for the scary, magic mushroomy-looking dried eggplant, but the eggplant comes out yet again, victorious.  
And really, Winter Ratatouille is not high in calories at all if you eat it as a stew or side for meat.  It might not even be that bad if you could put it over a small serving of pasta, which I can't because my evil Luciano Pavarotti-like alter ego takes over when in the presence of pasta and when I come to, I find several portions gone while singing an inspired verse of O Sole Mio.  And I could sing a noteworthy encore when thinking about making an Erbazzone or Pitta with Winter Ratatouille as the filling.   My January mood has me singing something more along the lines of Mozart’s unfinished Requiem, a fitting  theme song for the Tragedy of the Dieting Paisana.
Actually, the day ended quite well.  A family walk in the blistery weather snapped me out of my funk.  And then, as though the universe knew I needed a serious pick-me-up, I found our first shipment of seeds in the mail and the 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook.  Talk about a good day.  Short of Viv pouring me a nightcap and putting herself to bed, it couldn't get much better.

an assortment of seeds from Gourmet Seed International


  1. I think you should pick up cross country skiing (and you can pull Viv in a sled behind you). My mom found this an excellent escape when I was a wee one, and Viv will surely love it, too! You'll burn loads of calories, which will in turn allow you to eat all the yummy food you adore. Just my thought for the day. xo! lis

    1. ps - i've had red solo cup stuck in my head for two weeks. "proceed to party...!"

    2. Thanks Lis! I think Nick just ordered a set of cross country skis. Just in time because I really wanna "proceed to party"!

  2. I started pouting until you spoke of wearing shorts. I'm sewing my mouth shut! KW

    1. Lol! Why didn't I think of that? It's gonna be a sad sad winter on 'the manor'!