Posts Tagged ‘ratatouille’

La Forge Merlot cozies up to ratatouille pizza

La Forge Merlot with ratatouille pizza
We always thought drinking good wines with pizza was our dirty little secret. But then we found that great pizza is a given in California’s Sonoma wine country. We were especially taken by the pizza-wine pairings at Comstock Wines. Unlike us, the Sonoma folks couldn’t enjoy pizza and wine while the New England Patriots.

As football season begins to wind down, we’re exploring a wider world of wine with pizza. As we learned from pizza guru Rosario Del Nero of Bertucci’s, pizza can support an infinite variety of toppings. Just show restraint. “When it comes to toppings, less is more,” Del Nero cautioned. “You don’t want to overwhelm your pizza.”

A mixed half case from wine distributor Esprit du Vin ( arrived at the end of the year. We’ve designated them for pizza pairings, which is proving both challenging and a lot of fun.

The wine: La Forge Estate Merlot 2015

La Forge Estate Merlot bottleMerlot is the good-time-Charlie grape of Bordeaux compared to the tougher, much tannic Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot ripens early and makes lush and plummy wines. It’s widely grown around the world and often marketed as the soft alternative to Cabernet. The rap on Merlot is that it’s often too soft and unstructured.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. This Merlot was crafted in the southwest corner of France by Jean-Claude Mas. Since he took over Domaines Paul Mas nearly two decades ago, he’s been a pioneer in restoring luster to the wines of Languedoc. Taking a decidedly New World approach to this daily table red, he’s aimed for intense concentration. The grapes were destemmed, fermented cool for five days, and then macerated another nine days with daily pumpovers before pressing. The first pressings were blended back in with free-run juice. The malolactic fermentation was in barrique, where the wine was aged another six months before bottling.

The 2015 benefits from some air, as the oak still lingers on the wine. We opened it an hour before eating, but it didn’t fully blossom until we poured the last glass—and then wished we had more. The intense plum and blackberry nose gives way to a palate of red fruit, dark spices, and toasted coffee. It’s a great example of the grape’s potential, and of Languedoc’s suitability for Merlot. The wine retails between $8 and $15.

Ratatouille pizza

The pizza: Ratatouille with fresh tomatoes and feta

Languedoc isn’t quite Provence, but it’s only a few kilometers away. Our first thought was to match this wine to a classic Provençal dish. Fortunately, we had some ratatouille on hand from a dinner earlier in the week. To brighten it up, we thought we’d add some sweet hothouse mini-tomatoes. Tangy feta is a classic foil for ratatouille, but it doesn’t melt very well. We thought we’d put some on the pizza, but added some fresh mozzarella as well.

Interestingly enough, the pizza brought out some of the herbal qualities in the wine, including some pleasant overtones of eucalyptus and the resinous scent of Mediterranean brush. For what it’s worth, we used the recipe for “Quick Ratatouille” from EAT RIGHT by Nick Barnard, published by Kyle Books ( You can find the recipe in this post.



1 teaspoon olive oil
dough for 16-inch pizza (see below)
3/4 cup leftover ratatouille, well-drained
6 oz. ping-pong ball-sized tomatoes, peeled and halved or quartered
3 oz. feta
3 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut in very thin slices


Set oven at 450°F.

Brush olive oil onto stretched-out pizza dough. Spread ratatouille thinly. Crumble half of feta over the vegetables. Distribute tomatoes. Crumble remaining feta over top. Distribute mozzarella slices evenly. When oven is heated, slide pizza in on top rack. Cook about 10 minutes.


This is our basic pizza dough for cooking in a conventional home oven using a conventional pizza pan. Measurements are by weight because flour can vary dramatically based on humidity and how firmly you pack the measuring cup. We prefer the extra flavor of half whole wheat and half white flour. But the recipe works fine if you use white flour alone.


210 grams flour
1/4 teaspoon instant dry yeast
1 teaspoon (7 grams) sugar
150 grams ice water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil


In food processor fitted with steel blade, add flour, yeast, and sugar. Process 30 seconds to mix. With processor turned on, dribble ice water through feed tube until absorbed. Process another 30 seconds.

Push dough down to evenly distribute in the processing bowl. Let rest for at least 30 minutes. This allows the yeast to get a head start on the salt. (It’s the same trick that makes French bread rise properly.)

When the waiting period is over, add salt and olive oil and process until the dough pulls away from the sides of bowl.

Turn out and place in barely greased 1-quart bowl. Cover loosely and let rise, preferably six hours or more, in cool spot. (Or refrigerate overnight, removing 3 hours before cooking to let dough return to room temperature.) If dough expands to rim, jiggle bowl to make dough subside.

Set oven to 450°F, making sure that one rack is on the top rails.

Flatten ball on slippery surface very lightly dusted with flour. We use polyethylene flexible cutting boards. Stretch by hand into a 16-inch round. Place well-seasoned pizza pan dusted with cornmeal on top of pizza and invert. Trim off excess or roll into a thicker edge. (Or invert onto dusted peel if using a pizza stone or steel in the oven.) Place toppings on pizza. Cook on oven’s top rack for 8 minutes if toppings are light, 10 minutes if laden with cheese or heavy vegetables. The Neapolitan-style crust should be crisp and browned on the bottom and slightly chewy on the top. Cooking time is much briefer if using a pizza stone or steel.


01 2018

Summer love: Chinon and ratatouille

our ratatouille
August brings a near-embarrassment of riches. After a wet summer with good heat, our garden is in overdrive. What we don’t grow we can buy in abundance at the farmers markets held daily here in Cambridge. We have to remind ourselves that one does not live on insalata caprese alone. In August, there is also ratatouille.

Such elemental foods deserve a special kind of reverence. British health and fitness guru Nick Barnard runs Rude Health ( It is a food and drinks company that goes way beyond all the wholesome foodie fashions to get back to basics. His new book of food philosophy with 130 recipes, Eat Right, is published by Kyle Books ( You can buy it here on Amazon. It’s our favorite kind of “cookbook.” It deals less in rote directions than in ways to treat ingredients.

So with our tables and counters overflowing with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers, we turned to Barnard’s recipe for Quick Ratatouille. It’s an oven technique that takes five minutes to prepare and about 45 minutes to cook. On the first cool day, we started chopping. The recipe is at the end of this post. The results are above. By the way, we substituted three slender Japanese eggplants for the one large eggplant the recipe specifies. Barnard also offers an alternative version with a tomato-onion sauce (directions included). We’ll try that next time.

Chinon, the Loire summer red

Chinon bottle and glass for HungryTravelersRatatouille is a powerful dish—the summer equivalent of a hearty winter stew. While a number of soft reds complement it well, probably the ideal wine for a ratatouille dinner is Chinon. This Loire Valley red is Cabernet Franc on its home turf. The AOC regulations permit as much as 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, but the Saget la Perrière Marie de Beauregard Chinon 2015 that we uncorked is pure Cab Franc.

Purple reflections grace the otherwise garnet-red pour. Blackcurrant and blackberry dominate the nose with just a trace of menthol and vanilla from the nine months the wine spends in the barrel. In the mouth, the wine is full and rounded with good fruit slightly restrained by soft tannins. The classic sharp spice of the grape shows mostly in the smoky aftertaste, which reminded us of toasted coriander seed. It held up to the gorgeous ripeness of the ratatouille vegetables. As a sipping wine, it would benefit from another year in the cellar or opening a few hours before dinner. Retail varies $17-$20.


Serves 4 either as a side or with some crusty bread and butter


1 large eggplant, purple or freckled, trimmed and chopped medium–coarse
5 large, firm, and ripe tomatoes (heirloom ones are a good choice), cored and chopped medium– coarse
3 medium zucchini, trimmed and chopped medium–coarse
2 red or orange bell peppers, trimmed, seeded, and chopped (more coarsely than the other vegetables)
4 garlic cloves, smashed and finely diced
2 bay leaves
Thyme sprigs
1/2 to 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
A small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped, to serve
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400°F.

One-dish method

Put the prepared eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and red or orange bell peppers into a roasting pan or baking dish.

Throw in the garlic and herbs, pour over about 1/2 cup of olive oil, and sprinkle with lots of salt and some grindings of black pepper. Jumble it up to coat everything thoroughly with the oil, adding more oil if need be to keep it moist. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, turning over the vegetables from time to time.

Remove the thyme sprigs and the bay leaves and serve sprinkled with the freshly chopped parsley.

With a tomato and onion sauce

If you like onions in your ratatouille, in addition to the above, peel and dice 2 medium onions medium-coarse. Smash, peel, and finely dice 3 of the 4 garlic cloves. Peel the tomatoes if you wish or just core and chop them coarsely without peeling.

Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over low–medium heat and add the onions. Allow them to sweat a little and soften but not color, then add the chopped garlic and continue to cook for a minute, no more. Add the tomatoes and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

Assemble the rest of the vegetables in the baking dish as above, and tuck in the remaining clove of garlic. Pour over the tomato sauce and stir, adding as much olive oil as necessary to moisten everything generously.



08 2017

What a great thing to do with an egg!

pisto manchego with cod a pil pil
We’ve been lucky enough to visit Sevilla’s Taberna del Alabardero every few years over the last few decades, but it’s possible that our most recent meal was the best yet—even though it was off the modest bistrot menu instead of from the haute cuisine fine-dining menu. Now with sites in Madrid and in Washington, D.C., Taberna del Alabardero began as a social-work program launched by a priest to teach marketable skills to boys from the streets. It’s evolved into one of the top hospitality schools in Spain. The original location in Sevilla near the bullring is the laboratory where all that hospitality training is put into practice. The townhouse mansion has fine dining rooms upstairs with a menu that would have made Escoffier smile. (The third level has elegant bedrooms for the small hotel.)

Taberna del Alabardero

Frankly, we’re just as happy to eat off the bistro menu in the tile-encrusted dining room downstairs that adjoins the central atrium café. The dishes are simpler and everything is prepared—and served—by the faculty and students of the hospitality school. (Note the students standing by, waiting to serve.) Dishes tend to be Spanish rib-stickers: the hearty potato and sausage stew known as Riojanas, or cod a pil pil served with pisto manchego (Spanish ratatouille) topped with a poached egg (above). Here the pisto and poached egg constituted a side dish, paying second fiddle to the cod. But we think it will make a great light lunch this summer when we’re swimming in tomatoes, squash, and eggplant.

The three-course bistrot menu at Taberna del Alabardero is a steal, costing 12.50 euros on weekdays, 17.50 euros weekends. Here’s the contact information: Calle Zaragoza, 20. The phone is (+34) 95-450-27-21, and the web site is The restaurant is closed in August.


03 2014