Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ratatouille Burgers

Q: How can you make a sworn carnivore squeal with delight over vegetables?

A: Mix them with beef!

We found ourselves with a zucchini, half an eggplant, a bell pepper, onions, garlic, and a small bunch of tomatoes. There was no getting around a batch of ratatouille. Which is a dish I love, so I wasn't too upset about it. So I stewed it up in a big pot. Which reminds me that interestingly, there are actually two schools of thought regarding ratatouille. The first insists that the vegetables must be cooked separately and then combined at the end. The second goes for communal cooking of the ingredients. Both camps are extremely adamant about the fact that it's only true ratatouille if it's made by their method. I actually have no opinion on the issue, but I usually cook everything together because it minimizes dishes. Why dirty 5-6 pots... when I can just use one...?

It's really a handy dish. You only one pot needed to make it, it's awfully flexible (you can adjust proportions of vegetables, seasonings, cooking times), and the possibilities of what to do with it are endless.

I've seen recipes for ratatouille involving additions like tomato paste or broth, but I stick to the simpler olive oil, salt, and pepper. I also generally season with Herbes de Provence, since I have a really fragrant little sachet of them that I bought at the farmer's market (contents are variable, but mine are a mix of rosemary, thyme, basil, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, chervil, and lovage... don't you think "lovage" is the best-named spice?). But did you know that "Herbes de Provence" is a term and commercial concept coined during the 1970s?? I feel duped. La Cusinière Provençale, a cookbook originally published in 1897 and our reference for all things Provence around here, calls for nutmeg to season ratatouille. Any fresh herb you have lying around would also be great. Or you could take a nod from Pipérade, and season with a healthy dose of Piment d'Espelette (Basque hot red pepper). I say, do what you feel.

After making ratatouille, you will be delighted to find, as I mentioned, that it has many uses. One of which is over bulgar with a poached egg.
Another of which is mixing it in your burgers. Make no mistake, that's the real point of this blog post.
I must say, the result was delicious. The burgers were incredibly juicy and flavorful. Tart, sweet, salty, meaty, herbaceous... both rich and fresh at the same time. We ate them on buns with some warm goat cheese, lettuce, and a little bit of mustard, with a small pile of tiny little roasted potatoes that I'd picked up recently. Sides of roasted Fingerlings and a simple green salad would also be just perfect. Mmm.

I'm a big ratatouille fan, and I'm a big burger fan (or I have been since I stopped being a vegetarian 3 years ago and learned of the magic of a juicy rare burger...), and I'm still a bit starry-eyed over the combination of the two.


So make this. Soon. I don't think you'll be sad about it.

Ratatouille Burgers, loosely based on this Food and Wine recipe, serves 6

.65 kilos / about 1.5 pounds ground beef
1 piece of dry toast, crumbled into very small bits
1 egg
5 very generous tablespoonfuls of ratatouille
1-2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
2 dashes Cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Using your hands, work the other ingredients into the ground beef by kneading and squashing quite a bit. When everything looks evenly incorporated, form the mixture into six patties.

Melt some butter in a skillet on medium-high heat. When it starts to foam up, add the patties. Allow to brown, then flip. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook to desired doneness.

Ratatouille Niçoise, translated from La Cuisinière Provençale by J.-B. Reboul (a book which rarely gives quantities or measurements, hence the lack thereof below)

Red and green bell peppers
Salt, Pepper
Grated Nutmeg

Cut up eggplants and zucchini after peeling them. Remove the seeds from a few red and green peppers. Put everything in a large saucepan where you will have sweated in 2 or 3 spoonfuls of oil onion and 3 cloves of minced garlic. Add a few roughly diced tomatoes. Allow to cook on low heat adding oil and some black olives (optional). Season with salt, pepper, and a dash of grated nutmeg.

Served hot, or chilled, this is a very pleasant summer dish.

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