Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ratatouille with Fennel and Okra

And I served it with feta crumbled over the top and some grilled venison sausages w/okra on the side.

Plates were emptied! Quickly! Very very tasty.

Full disclosure: I've never made ratatouille until I made this. My first try I knocked out of the park!

I got the idea for making ratatouille from a great post at a wonderful food blog. She's a professional chef and teaches cooking classes full-time. Friendly and she answers comments and questions. You can find Helen at:

Beyond Salmon

and her ratatouille is here:

Beyond Salmon's Ratatouille

Go have a quick look and you'll see where I got the inspiration for my Ratatouille. I know that fennel isn't a common ingredient in Ratatouille but it's in season down here in South Oz and very inexpensive. Okra is in season here too, and it IS a staple veggie in Cajun cooking commonly used in gumbos.

And I do apologize for using canned corn. Fresh corn cobs are very pricey down here due to the 10 year ongoing drought. When you use canned corn make sure the ingredients are corn, water, salt. Nothing else. No chemical crap!

A quick word about fresh okra. When you are selecting okra to buy, you want to buy smaller rather than larger. The larger ones can have a "woody" texture. You also want to test a tip or two. If the tip snaps off then they are fresh. If it bends completely over, then that bin of okra is not very fresh. Here's what I mean:

Give the tip a little bend like this:
testing okra 01

And the tip should snap off thusly if it is fresh:
testing okra 02

Anyways, on with the recipe:

Fennel and Okra Ratatouille with Venison & Okra on the side

What you need:
One large fennel bulb
12 to 16 small, fresh okras
1 large onion, rough chopped
One 12 ounce can of corn kernels
2 or 3 cloves crushed garlic
1 large zucchini
1 can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tbsp dried rosemary
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
sea salt
olive oil
a bit of crumbled feta

4 mini venison sausages (2 per person)
12 to 16 small, fresh okras --in addition to the ones going into the ratatouille
olive oil
sea salt
small handful fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves

What you do:

First, peel and slice the zucchini. Try to aim for 1/2 inch thick slices. Sprinkle the slices with sea salt, toss to coat, and let them set on paper towels for 15 minutes or so --this is to draw moisture out of the zucchini. I do this with eggplant, but it was the first time I'd done it with zucchini. Worked like a charm.

See? Have a look:
prepared zucchini

Prepare the okra: cut the tips and stems off, then cut each okra into 3 pieces. Don't worry about the sticky stuff as that is normal. Fry them up with a bit of olive oil for a minute or two so they are just browned. Set aside to drain and cool. This is what they look like before lightly frying:
chopped okra

Slice your fennel bulb into 1/4 inch thick slices. If you need to halve or even quarter it to facilitate the slicing then be all means go ahead and do that, no worries.

fennel cut in half

fennel sliced

Now give your onion a rough chopping. Don't make the pieces small otherwise they'll be lost in the ratatouille.

By now the zucchini slices should have lost enough moisture. Give them a quick pat with paper towels and fry them in a bit of olive oil till the just start to brown. A minute or two each side should do the trick. Set them aside to drain.

In the same pot you'll be cooking the ratatouille (I recommend an enameled dutch oven) put the sliced fennel and chopped onion. A bit of olive oil and fry em up. You want the fennel and onion to just caramelize. Once they've caramelized then add the garlic, basil and rosemary; continue to fry for another 30 seconds.

Now you get to de-glaze the pot. Add the liquid from the can of corn to the pot and stir it around so the fennel and onion aren't stuck at all. Put the lid on and simmer on low for 5 minutes.

Add the can of tomatoes and the corn. Simmer for another ten minutes. Now add the zucchini and okra. Put the lid on and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and let it sit in the dutch oven while you get the sausages and the rest of the okra cooked.

If you want this dish totally vegetarian, then just don't use sausages at this point, no worries.

Hopefully your dutch oven should now look something similar to this:
ratatouille in pot

Cut the rest of the okra into thirds, as you did for the ratatouille. Put the cut okra and the venison sausages into a wok with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle a bit of sea salt, and toss in the coriander leaves:
venison and veg

Fry it up till the sausages are done. Toss/stir regularly so nothing sticks. Once they are done you can plate it up!

Spoon the ratatouille onto a plate, sprinkle with crumbled feta, and put two sausages plus some fried okra onto the plate:

It's easier to make than it sounds and OH SO TASTY!

Again, a big thanks to Beyond Salmon for posting her wonderful ratatouille recipe and guidelines for making it! Thanks Helen!

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