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- Ratatouille
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Recipes, Ratatouille and tips

The White Hat Rat

Ratatouille is a basic dish that any cook should have in their repertoire. It can be a main dish for vegetarians, an appetiser served with crusty bread, an accompaniment to a roast or served cold the next day as part of a tapas lunch.

Just how fancy you get is up to you, so we have included several recipes:

The Basic White Hat Rat

Your basic rat consists of tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini assisted by some onions, garlic, red or green capsicum, herbs and seasonings.

Start with a large saucepan and in some olive oil soften some chopped onion, chopped capsicum and garlic.

What? You don t like garlic? Well go off and buy some McDonalds and stop hanging around with the rest of us who like food.

When the onions are translucent, add chopped eggplant and zucchini which have been washed but not peeled. What size to chop them? The zucchini are easy just chop them into discs. The size of the eggplant confronts you with your first major decision as chef in this dish. Here at White Hat we prefer our rat to be manageable with a fork without the assistance of a knife. Hence we cut our eggplant to fork-sized pieces. However we usually leave a few less amenable large pieces so that those of our friends who try to deny they have any peasant blood in their veins are left with some sauce dribbling down their chin.

The heat should still be low and a lid placed on the saucepan so that the eggplant and zucchini slowly stew and release their liquids rather than frying. Now is the time to add some salt and freshly ground pepper.

What! You haven’t got a pepper grinder? You’ve got a mobile phone haven’t you? That costs far more than a pepper grinder but probably adds less to your quality of life. Go away and use your mobile phone to dial a pizza and come back and talk to the rest of us once you ve got your priorities sorted out.

OK. The eggplant and zucchini have softened. It s now time to add the tomatoes. If you have fresh tomatoes, chop them roughly and throw them in. If you haven t got fresh ones there is no need to feel embarrassed about using canned ones. Those in a tin have usually been picked at their peak and can often be better than the out-of-season fresh ones you will find in the supermarket. When using canned tomatoes for rat my preference is for whole peeled tomatoes which I drain to discard the often sugar and salt laden juices then chop the remaining tomatoes roughly and throw into the saucepan.

At this point you can turn the heat up to medium to help reduce the liquid from the tomatoes. This is also a good time to add some fresh herbs such as thyme, marjoram or oregano.

What! You ve got dried herbs and haven t got any fresh ones? You can buy them at your local market, grow them in a pot on your windowsill, or collect some from the elderly Greek lady who lives down the street who speaks no English but for whom a smile and a yassou is more than ample payment. If you haven t got any fresh herbs then go away and figure out how to get some and stop bothering the rest of us.

Now, where were we? That s right; we had just added the herbs. Somehow there seems to be only you and me left now. I don t know what s happened to the rest of them. Let the rat bubble gently for about 30 to 40 minutes then check for consistency and taste. If it is too liquid, ladle out the excess juices into a smaller saucepan, boil for a few minutes to reduce them down then add them back to the main saucepan. If the tomato flavour is rather weak you can beef it up (or to be precise, tomato it up) with some tomato paste or passata. Be wary of adding commercial pasta sauces because they may mask the taste of your fresh veggies. Finally throw in some chopped parsley and it is time to serve.

Serve it as a side dish with a main course or by itself with toasted crusty bread. A good rat should have the eggplant and zucchini starting to disintegrate but with still enough body so that their individual tastes can be recognised. If they re all mushed in together it s not a rat it s a vegetable stew. A vegetable stew is still good, but not as satisfying as a rat. Rat tastes best when eaten in the summer twilight in the back yard where you grew the ingredients and where you can taunt the possums because you got to the tomatoes before they did.

The White Hat Flash Rat

The basic rat is what you cook for yourself or the family. However, if you are having guests you may need to upgrade to the White Hat Flash Rat. This doesn t involve a great deal more. Firstly, if you are using fresh tomatoes it would be a good idea to peel them, otherwise people will find odd bits of skin floating in their dish. They’re perfectly nourishing but not always considered appropriate in polite society. To peel tomatoes, drop them in boiling water for about a minute cool them under cold running water and the skin will usually then come off easily. If you want to get fancier, you can cut them in half and squeeze out the pips. However that does eliminate one of life s great pleasures - the possibility of finding one or two tomato pips stuck between your teeth which allow you to relive the flavour of the meal you had half an hour before.

If you are familiar with your ingredients and know that tomato paste will be needed then add it to the saucepan after you have softened the onions and allow a minute or two for it to fry down. This helps remove the bitter raw taste often associated with tomato paste.

You might also decide to add another member of the squash family such as little yellow squash. The bad news about vegetables such as zucchini and squash is they have little in the way of nourishment compared with most other foods. They are only there for ballast and flavour (in the case of zucchini) or colour (in the case of squash). One or two bay leaves added at this stage can also add another dimension to the final flavour.

We would also recommend that you use some fresh basil if you have some available. If in doubt as to when to add it, remember White Hat Cooking Tip No.12 - If in doubt as to whether an ingredient should be added at the beginning or at the end, then add some at both the beginning and at the end. That way you have a 100% chance of being half right rather than a 50% chance of being completely wrong.

At the end of cooking and just before serving is the time to stir in your secret ingredient. According to your tastes, experiment with Balsamic Vinegar, Spanish sherry vinegar, Tabasco or even Angostura Bitters.

Served on a fancy platter with some additional sprigs of basil or parsley on the top and there you have The White Hat Flash Rat.

The White Hat Flash as a Rat with a Gold Tooth Rat

Now here at White Hat we are from the throw-everything-in-the-pot-the-more-the-merrier tradition of fine cuisine. It therefore takes some discipline on our part to cook a rat. Because, no matter how fancy, a rat should still be a celebration of its three or four basic vegetables.

For the White Hat Flash as a Rat with a Gold Tooth Rat start by slicing some or all of your zucchini and eggplant and roasting them in a slow oven for about half an hour. Also roast a whole red capsicum and tomatoes (if you are using fresh ones). The roasting helps concentrate the flavours. Cool the roasted tomatoes and capsicum under cold water and peel them. Chop the capsicum, discarding the stalk, ribs and seeds but retaining the juices that have developed in the cavity. Proceed as for the Flash Rat adding your roasted vegetables when you would normally add you fresh ones. You might also like to throw in a few green or pink peppercorns for an added highlight, or even one or two finely chopped chillies but not too much of any these extras.

Because you have driven a fair amount of water out of the vegetables during the roasting you may find you need to add some vegetable or chicken stock during the cooking to keep everything moist.

Just before serving, grate on some lemon rind and drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil. Serve by candlelight in an even fancier bowl than you would use for the Flash Rat, place Parmesan Cheese in a grater on the table for people to add according to their taste and there you have The White Hat Flash as a Rat with a Gold Tooth Rat.

The White Hat Morning After the Night Before Rat

Rat keeps well in the fridge for several days and can be eaten cold. Cold doesn’t mean straight out of the fridge - allow it to come to room temperature. It can be used as part of a picnic, an accompaniment at a barbecue, as part of tapas, or on sandwiches particularly as a topping for meat. If you don t think you ll use it cold in the next couple of days, put it in the freezer and use it to add some body to your next casserole or hotpot. Add it towards the end of the cooking because it only needs to be heated through.

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