Sunday, September 2, 2012

ratatouille cobbler with cheddar biscuit topping

did you know you can make savory cobblers? 

i mean, i am definitely on board with all kinds of sweet cobblers, slumps, grunts, and whatever other semi-icky name people come up with for fruit cooked under a sweet biscuity top layer. for instance, i am currently mourning the loss of the blackberry forest in our old backyard, since a blackberry-lime cobbler is never an unwelcome guest at the table.

but things change and we move on and deal with it. here in texas, late summer means tons of zucchini, tomatoes, and eggplant, so, inspired by memories of cobblers past, i decided to brave the oven and make a ratatouille-type dish with a fluffy, cheesy biscuit topping. 

aren't those eggplants darling? i think all eggplants are pretty lovely, as far as vegetables go, but the color variegation and petite size of these made them especially fetching. apparently they're called antigua eggplants, but i just call them presh. you could use a regular big old purple one, too, although make sure the skin isn't too thick (if it is, you could peel it).

other old friends in the cast of characters include zucchini, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and herbs. apparently traditional ratatouille also has bell peppers, but we didn't have any and i'm not hugely into cooked bell peppers anyway, so i didn't miss them. you could certainly add one or two to the mix if you like.

basically just chop everything into smallish bite-sized pieces (except the garlic. that should be more minced-y). mine were probably all less than 1/2" square. you don't have to be too methodical about it, though. first, heat up (over medium-high heat) a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large oven-proof pan. an enameled casserole pan is perfect for this (i used the rachael ray one that i got at goodwill and am somewhat embarrassed by, even though it's actually pretty great). 

you don't want to skimp too much on the oil because it adds a nice velvety mouthfeel (sorry, "mouthfeel" is kind of a gross word) to the finished dish. once it's shimmery, add the onion and let it cook for perhaps 5+ minutes, stirring occasionally, until it gets translucent and a little bit brown. then add the garlic and cook for about 30 - 45 seconds before adding the zucchini. once that's cooked down a bit (4 or 5 minutes, maybe), add the eggplant, then the tomatoes. at this point you can also add some salt, which will help the vegetables release some of their juices. 

you should also add some herbs now - i used fresh lemon thyme and italian parsley, along with a big pinch of dried fines herbes. herbes de provence are more traditional, and fresh basil would be more than welcome as well. a few chili flakes and some grindings of pepper aren't a bad idea, either.

at this point, the vegetables should be pretty tender, but not completely cooked to mush. take the pan off the burner and let it hang out while you make the biscuit topping. this is also a good point to start preheating the oven (450 degrees).

these biscuits are dead easy. i modified my normal biscuit recipe slightly, adding cheese and using milk alone, since we didn't have any yogurt. also, instead of rolling them out, i just dropped them in dollops across the top of the vegetables.

you can grate the cheese, but i like chopping it into little bits (as above) so that you get little tasty pockets of cheese in each bite. this is a great way to use up random bits of cheese that may be knocking around your refrigerator - i used a couple of kinds of sharp cheddar, but pretty much any not-too-soft, flavorful cheese would be good - gruyere or gouda, etc.

mix the dry topping ingredients, cut in the butter (with your fingers, a pastry cutter, or in a food processor), then add the cheese, then the milk. try not to mix it too much at this point so they don't get tough. then just dollop the biscuits over the vegetables as above. 

bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the biscuits are browned and cooked through. the vegetable mixture will bubble up while it's baking, so it's not a bad idea to place the dish on a ridged sheet pan to keep your oven from getting too messy.

be sure to let things cool down for at least 20 minutes or so before eating - it'll be super-hot. i actually liked it best at just a little warmer than room temperature - that way you can taste all of the flavors better. plus, who wants to eat a hot dish when it's 100 degrees out? no one, that's who.

1 large onion
lots of garlic (i used about 3 tablespoons, minced)
2 large zucchini
3 small eggplants (or 1 large)
3 medium tomatoes (or 2 large)
herbs (3+ tablespoons fresh +/or a couple of teaspoons dried)
(**if you like a thicker sauce around the vegetables, you could add a slurry of ~ 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water to the vegetable mix before putting the topping on. i thought it was fine with a thinner sauce)

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
~ 1/3 - 1/2 cup cheese, chopped or grated
1 cup milk (or buttermilk or milk/yogurt mixture)

listening to: bishop allen + the rosebuds

1 comment:

  1. Okay I definitely have to try this before summer's over. Yum.