Guys. With the help of Hugh Acheson, I am here to sweep those back-to-school and disappearing-days-of-summer blues away. Also I have made at least one of your Disney-related dreams come true (because I know that we all have those, you don’t have to lie to me J). This post is sounding pretty magical already, am I right?
In the movie Ratatouille a delightful rat named Remy living in Paris is surprisingly an amazing chef that would definitely be able to cook the socks off of Tim Colicchio or Emeril Lagasse. At the end of the movie, Remy has the opportunity to cook for the formidable critic, Anton Ego. Remy chooses to make a meal that is normally referred to as a “peasant” dish—much to the surprise of his peers. I bet you can guess what that dish is if you haven’t seen the film (but you really need to go watch it ASAP). Ratatouille! Remy bakes layers of tomato, squash, and zucchini together in their simple glory and finishes them off with a creamy sauce. Ego takes a bite and is immediately transported back in time to his childhood and wonderful memories of his mother’s cooking.
In one word, “IWantItNow.” Aka you know you want to recreate that feeling yourself (if your childhood has several memories of good food…). Hugh Acheson and the internet have taught me that this dish is not really a ratatouille at all but a tian—named after a style of baking dish. And there is a recipe for said tian in Hugh’s new book The Broad Fork. This is fabulous news to me because now I can pretend to be all Frenchie and chef-y like Remy, while actually not putting forth much effort except some chopping action. And the final result is a delicious, comforting, and beautiful dish. I told you I would make one of your Disney-related dreams come true!
Hugh Acheson is the unibrow-clad chef that has become a semi-famous television personality via Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. He’s hilarious and hella talented—not to mention incredibly successful with a restaurant empire in Georgia and two James Beard Awards under his belt. He has always been a proponent for simpler, whole foods-type cooking that focuses on simple flavors, and his newest cookbook is concentrated around seasonal produce. This book is definitely not a celebration of a vegetarian lifestyle, so don’t be scared you meat-lovers! The Broad Fork does bring vegetables and fruits to the forefront of your mind, however, to make produce the star of your dinner plate. Even when steak is involved.
The recipes are creative, and Hugh gives thoughtful, descriptive instructions that make preparation a breeze. He guides you through unfamiliar produce like a knowledgeable best friend holding your hand as you walk through your farmer’s market. Furthermore, his sassy rep comes through in his writing (fabulous) with gorgeous photography sitting right beside it. This is a definite necessity for everyone! Have I sold you yet?
Back to this tian! One of the very first steps of the recipe involves sprinkling salt on the top of thinly sliced tomato, waiting for several minutes, and drying excess water off of the tops of the tomato slices. This step may seem tedious and unnecessary, but whenever you see an instruction like this, do not skip it! The salting of the tomatoes is not for flavor’s sake. This extra step serves an important purpose.
Tomatoes have a much higher amount of water than zucchini or squash. You can see this easily by the residue left by tomatoes on your cutting board as compared to the relatively clean process of cutting a squash or zucchini. When you’re baking a dish with these foods together, that extra water can be a problem. We need to get rid of some of that water, and salt is a solution to this predicament! Osmosis and diffusion are the names of this game! I know I just covered osmosis, with simple syrups, but this one builds on the previous post, so stay with me.
When you add salt to the top of a water-rich surface of a tomato, you’re basically creating a concentrated salt solution on the other side of the flesh of the tomato. The tomato’s water-rich cells will want to balance this uneven concentration of solutes, so water will rush out of the cell walls to help even it out. Diffusion comes into play here. Water molecules are always randomly moving around between cells and into/out of foods, but particularly from low solute concentrations (high percentage of water) to high solute concentrations (low percentage of water). It’s this unevenness that causes water molecules to stay on the other side of the tomato’s cells allowing you to soak it up with a paper towel and proceed with the recipe! You only notice diffusion when osmosis crashes the party.
This recipe is the perfect transition between summer and fall. You get to use up the rest of those juicy August tomatoes and dip into the end-of-summer squash which beckons feelings of October. Don’t forget to watch Ratatouille while you make this to get the full effect! I may or may not have done this…
Squash and Tomato Tian
Barely adapted from The Broad Fork
2 anchovies, rinsed and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped (fresh please!)
1 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped (fresh please!)
¼ cup olive oil
Ground black pepper
2 small yellow straightneck squash
4 roma tomatoes
12 large fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 375⁰F.
2. In a small bowl, combine the chopped anchovies, garlic, parsley, thyme, and olive oil. Add a few pinches of salt, a couple cracks of black pepper, and mix well. Set aside.
3. Cut the tomatoes into slices, roughly ¼ inch thick, and place on a large plate. Sprinkle the tomatoes with some kosher salt so that you can see the salt grain on the tops, but not too much that it looks like a salt crust. See picture above.
4. Cut the squash and zucchini into slices just as you did the tomatoes so that the slices are the same thickness (approx. ¼ inch).
5. Pat the top of the tomato slices dry with a paper towel to get rid of the extra water.
6. Prep your cooking dish with some extra oil or cooking oil spray. I used a 9-inch ceramic tart pan, but any shallow dish will work great as long as it’s at least 7 inches in diameter. Earthenware or ceramic works best.
7. Arrange a circle of the tomatoes in the middle of the dish in a tight layer. Season with a pinch of salt. Slightly layered on top of the previous layer, repeat with the zucchini followed by the squash, and then the tomatoes again, working your way outwards. Season each layer as you go. Keep it tight so that you can use all of the produce! Repeat until all of the zucchini, squash, and tomato has been layered in the dish. If you have extra produce but no more room, stick the produce in its prospective layer making the layers tighter yet.
8. Tuck the basil in among the layers so that it is dispersed throughout the dish. Spoon the olive oil mixture on top of the whole thing and bake for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
9. Remove the dish from the oven and turn it up to broil. Scatter the bread crumbs across the top of the tian, and broil for about 4-5 minutes, or until the bread crumbs have browned nicely. Remove from the oven, and enjoy while hot or at room temperature after cooling.
Full disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review, but all opinions are my own!