Kids won’t eat their veggies!

Kids and vegetables. They go together like BP and the Louisiana bayou.

Kids won’t eat them because most people don’t take the time to make them taste good. Vegetables don’t make themselves taste good because, well, let’s face it, it’s not in their best interest to be eaten.

Here’s the thing, though.

You CAN make them taste good. It’s not really that hard, either. And it only takes a little more effort and some dedication to make them awesome, as I discovered this past weekend. I recently got my kids to eat 2 types of squash, eggplant, and kalamata olives all in one go. Seriously.

The other day my stepson mentioned that he wanted to try ratatouille. Maybe I’m an ignorant American, but I had no clue what the hell he was talking about. I’d seen the movie, thought it was interesting, funny, endearing… Essentially, everything we’ve come to expect from Pixar, on the whole. And I’d been vaguely curious about the dish that gave its name to the movie, but I have this problem: I was born in the 70s and I forget to use the internet to find answers to questions about half the time. Sad but true. So I had no idea that it is a vegetarian dish. I also had no idea that it was delicious, or that it was, despite being very time-intensive, really easy to make.

My wife, however, was born in the 80s and she does not suffer from this affliction. She heard her son’s comment and immediately ran to the computer to find a recipe, which she found on a website called Chubbypanda.com. She printed it up and handed it to me to take to the grocery store.

The recipe (again, from chubbypanda.com) is below. I love that CP included a list of gear with the recipe, because if you don’t have a blender or a food processor, you’re going to have a problem with this recipe. I don’t know how the French peasants made this without that crucial bit of equipment.

Ratatouille (Confit Byaldi)

Gear:

1 chef’s knife, Santouku knife, or Chinese cleaver
1 cutting board
1 mixing bowl
1 large frying pan or sauté pan with fitted lid
1 spatula
1 blender or food processor
1 fine mesh sieve
1 12-inch casserole dish or 8×8-inch baking dish with at least 1 inch sides
1 BBQ lighter or long match

Ingredients:

2 cups of dry red wine
3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
1 medium Japanese eggplant (aubergine)
1 medium carrot
1 medium yellow squash
1 medium zucchini
1 cup roasted bell peppers in oil
1 cup of olives
1 rosemary stalk (approx 1ft.)
1 yellow onion
1 shallot
5-7 cloves of garlic
1 can of whole tomatoes (16oz.)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

(Note: Try to select vegetables that are about 1in. in diameter.)

Prep work:

1 – Wash the vegetables. Dry thoroughly. Slice into 1/4in, thick rounds.
2 – Wash and peel the carrot. Slice into rounds as thinly as possible.
3 – Drain the roasted bell peppers and slice into 1/4in. thick strips.
4 – Drain the olives and pit if necessary. Roughly chop.
5 – Remove and save the tip of the rosemary stalk for garnish. Strip the leaves from the stem and mince the leaves finely. Discard the stem.
6 – Clean and thinly slice the onion and shallot.
7 – In the mixing bowl, finely crush the tomatoes using your hands.
8 – Clean and roughly chop the garlic.

I doubled it because I figured it wasn’t going to be enough, and it’s out of order. The first step should be to make the sauce. It takes so damn long that you can execute all the prep-work for the veggies (cut up 2 zucchinis, 4 yellow squash, 2 eggplants, and 2 carrots – all in 1/4” slices) and drink the half of the bottle of wine you didn’t use in the sauce while it’s cooking down. Doing it this way would be a much better use of time. And heck, who doesn’t feel better after sucking down 2 glasses of cabernet?

Also, a mandolin would speed the cutting if you are not expertly skilled with a french or santoku knife. I am not. Every time I think I might be, I manage to remove skin from one or more of the fingers on my left hand. I don’t even have a mandolin, though, so I go slow with a french knife. It’s more time to combine drinking and sharp objects, so win-win.

Here’s CP’s steps for the sauce:

1 – Sautee the onion and shallot slices in one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Cover and let steam until just translucent. Remove lid and add both the garlic and the minced rosemary leaves.

2 – Using medium or medium-low heat, cook the aromatics until they caramelize and turn light brown. Stir often.

3 – Add the olives and roasted bell peppers. Continue cooking until the onion and shallot slices become a rich, golden brown. Stir often and keep an eye on the stove. It’s easy to burn the aromatics during this stage.

4 – Raise the heat to medium or medium-high. Immediately deglaze the pan with the red wine. Once the wine comes to a boil, remove from the heat, ignite the surface of the wine with your lighter, then replace on the heat. The flames will fade once most of the alcohol has been burned off. Let the wine reduce until almost gone.

5 – Add the tomato puree and let come to a boil. Drop the heat to medium or medium-low and let simmer until reduced by half.

6 – Remove from heat and let cool. Puree in blender until smooth, then pass through the sieve to remove any woody bits. Set aside.

Here’s what you should do while the sauce is getting saucy:

1 – Wash the vegetables. Dry thoroughly. Slice into 1/4in, thick rounds.
2 – Wash and peel the carrot. Slice into rounds as thinly as possible.
3 – Spread the vegetable slices out onto the cutting board. Season both sides of each slice with a little salt and pepper. Make sure you do this before moving on to any other step. Let the vegetables rest on the cutting board until you’re ready to use them. Place the oven rack in the middle of your oven and heat the oven to 350ºF.

Then, once the sauce is cool enough to work with, do the following:

1 – Spread a 1/2in. layer of the sauce evenly across the bottom of the casserole dish. Save the remaining sauce for plating, or possibly making another confit byaldi later if you have enough left.

2 – Arrange a single layer of overlapping vegetable rounds across the top of the sauce. You should sink each round about halfway into the sauce. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top.

3 – Roast at 350ºF until the vegetables are tender. Should take about an hour. Some recipes, including Chef Keller’s, call for covering the vegetables with parchment or tin foil to prevent browning and cooking at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. I like the extra caramelization the vegetables and sauce get, so I dispense with this step. I compensate by roasting the vegetables for less time under higher heat, preserving the color of the vegetables. You should play with both methods and choose the one that tastes best to you.

4 – Plate in a small pool of the reserved sauce. Garnish with a rosemary sprig. I prefer to make a meal of it as is. However, it’s great with grilled or roasted chicken, or on top of pasta.

Serves 2-4*

*- No, it probably serves 6 or so, especially if the ratatouille is served with pasta, chicken, or something else. We served ours straight up and I can easily make another meal out of what’s left over. Two more if I grill some chicken or boil up some pasta. For the record, my family includes 4 boys, ages 12, 7, 5, and 4, plus my wife and I. This recipe makes a lot of food. I don’t want to call out a stranger, but there’s probably a reason the panda is chubby. Portion size, homes. It’s about portion size.

So anyway, that’s how I got my entire family to eat a vegetarian meal without complaining.

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4 Responses to “Kids won’t eat their veggies!”

  1. Write more!!! The world is waiting for your talent.

  2. That sounds great! I knew ratatouille was a classic french vegeatable dish but never imagined it sounding so delicious! (I imagined more of a Succotash for some reason, I think because the ratatouille in the movie looked like it had lima beans in it, lol) I might try Keller’s method, too. Although, I still don’t believe my kids will eat it. I’ll report back with results!

    • @katie

      Let me know how it goes! Next time I make it I am going to take pictures. If you beat me to it, I’d like to see your photos, too.

  3. […] again.  Something was still missing.  I realized I had some fresh rosemary left over from the ratatouille experiment in the freezer, and I dropped one small sprig of rosemary into the frying pan.  Almost […]

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