Moments of divine inspiration come rarely when the mind is busy. My brain is busting!
Menus for a local food festival, Valentine’s Day and our new winter menu have me dreaming in pasta technicolor. And yet, despite the food chaos swirling around in my head, this new vegetable and cheese appetizer popped to the top.
I had an overdue birthday dinner for two of my girlfriends this past Monday and really wanted to do something extra special, given that I was about eight weeks late! I had already figured out the main and dessert but I needed something beautiful to start. The girls love chevre and pesto so at least I had somewhere to begin.
I wanted rich, crispy, creamy with a little spice. I could have done pizza except I was serving a pasta for the main course and I didn’t want the double starch. Fish is always at the top of my list for starters but I had a non fish eater so that killed that! I was leaning towards a salad but the idea of a cold salad on a blustery winter’s night wasn’t cutting it either. As I was walking through the green grocer’s, the magic happened. Eggplant, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes stacked beside each other waiting for me to turn them into – you guessed it – ratatouille! Except I didn’t want a french vegetable stew…
Rather than stew everything, I did a little roasting, a little frying, a little whipping and then I restacked. Lo and behold an appetizer was created that overshadowed my birthday dinner tardiness. The girls loved it!
STACKED RATATOUILLE WITH WHIPPED PESTO-LACED CHEVRE
Preheat oven 350*F
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut lengthways into 4 pieces
1 small eggplant, cut 4 ½ inch rounds
2 vine-ripe tomatoes, cut in half horizontally
2 small zucchini, cut in half then cut length ways to make 8 slices
Place peppers and tomatoes on a parchment lined baking sheet, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and roast for ½ an hour.
Sauté the eggplant and zucchini in a griddle pan until soft but still holding their shape. Make sure that you use enough olive oil to thoroughly cook the eggplant
2 ounces mild soft chevre, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pesto
Enough heavy cream to make the chevre light and whipped – about 2 tablespoons
Place chevre, pesto and 1 tablespoon of heavy cream in a small bowl and whip with a hand mixer. Add more cream as necessary.
1 – 14 ounce can pezzatoni [diced plum tomatoes in thick tomato puree]
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes
Heat oil in a small skillet over medium high heat then sauté garlic for 1 minute
Add pezzatoni, salt, pepper and chili flakes, bring to a boil then remove from heat.
Place in a blender or small food processor and puree until smooth
Return to skillet and reheat just before serving.
1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Divide the grated cheese into 4 equal mounds on a parchment lined baking sheet. Spread the cheese out to make 4 inch circles. Bake for 5 minutes then allow to cool completely.
1 ounce mozzarella, shredded
1 ounce fontina, shredded
Starting with the eggplant, alternate the vegetables with a little shredded cheese finishing with the tomato. Place in oven for 6 minutes or until cheese has melted. Meanwhile spoon 1 tablespoon of reheated sauce in the middle of each serving dish. Place 1 vegetable stack on each plate. Top tomatoes with Parmesan wafer and a dollop of whipped chevre.
THE LOVE: it’s CRITICAL THAT YOU TAKE YOUR TIME FRYING THE EGGPLANT AND THAT YOU USE LOTS OF OLIVE OIL. aLSO, i USED rEGGIANO pARMIGIANO WHEN i MADE THE pARMESAN WAFERS…
Thanks for reading.