THIS 'rat' isn't very fast BUT it sure does taste good!

I am not sure how I feel about dicing vegetables. To be sure, on one hand there is a Zen-like rhythm in peeling, chopping and dicing. On the other hand, it can be a pain in the a**.

Take the recipe "Speedy Ratatouille with Goat Cheese." "Estimated time: one hour." Really? For a freaking vegetable side dish?

Seriously, I was dubious. Normally, my entrée is going to be the star, with the veggies in a simple supporting role - steamed broccoli, green beans, Russian banana potatoes - you get the idea.

So when I saw the aforementioned 'speedy rat' recipe in the October "Food and Wine," I assumed I would have a fast side dish. But as it turned out, there was nothing speedy about this rodent.

When I cook, if time gives me the luxury, I like to make my mis en place. That's a fancy a** (there's my second use of that word) French phrase for having all your ingredients ready before you start cooking.

Sure, we'd all like to do that; but who among us hasn't had a dish working furiously on the stove as we take our very first peek at the next ingredient in the recipe. "Whoa, I was supposed to have 1 cup of nasturtium flowers, steeped overnight in a balsamic vinegar reduction?

"Can't I just substitute some crumbled potato chips, for crying out loud? "

No. To cook on the fly like that is to be the Goofus of cooking. Gallant likes to have his mis en place.

Gallant likes to read the recipe two days before, make sure he has all the ingredients, and then carefully marinate his nasturtium flowers before going to bed in his neatly pressed pajamas.

Not Goofus. He's the bad boy of cooking.

The women swoon over him, with his two days growth of beard, leather jacket, and unwashed hands.

"Watch me, baby. I'm going to make some 'Speedy Ratatouille with Goat Cheese.'"

By cookbook author Melissa Clark, with suggested adaptations and snide comments.

Speedy Ratatouille

with Goat Cheese

Ingredients

1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling;

1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice;

5 large garlic cloves, minced (I used one, as I was uncharacteristically short);

salt and freshly ground black pepper;

1 zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch dice (why the zucchini is 1/2 inch while the eggplant 1 inch, I have no idea. I don't think anything bad will happen if you make the zucchini the same size as the eggplant);

1 yellow squash, cut into 1/2 inch dice (I had none and substituted green beans and a green tomato);

1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice;

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch dice (slip in a lil' hot one too);

2 lbs. tomatoes, cored and finely chopped (or canned chopped tomatoes, drained);

1 cup loosely packed shredded basil leaves;

1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest;

1/2 tsp. lemon juice;

1/2 cup crumbled aged goat cheese (I used sheep's milk feta)

Preparation

In a big pot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil until shimmering (the oil, not you).

Add the eggplant and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until almost tender, about 5 minutes.

Add 1/3 of the garlic, season with salt and black pepper and cook for 1 minute.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to a plate. ("I only use a non-slotted spoon, baby." "Oooh, Goofus, you're such a rebel!" she crooned, stroking his stubble as he stirred the eggplant.)

Add 2 tbs. of the olive oil to the pot with the zucchini and yellow squash and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned in spots, about 5 minutes.

Add another 1/3 of the garlic, season with salt and black pepper, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the vegetables to the eggplant.

Add the remaining 2 tbs. of oil to the pot, along with the onion and bell pepper. Cook over moderate heat until softened, about 7 minutes.

Add the remaining garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes, 2/3 of the basil and the reserved vegetables and cook over moderate heat until the tomatoes have broken down and the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in the remaining basil along with the lemon zest and juice.

Transfer to bowls and sprinkle with the goat cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

There you have it. Not so speedy - but like Goofus, well worth the trouble.

"Oh, Goofus, I just love the way you dice your eggplant," she purred, as Gallant forlornly arranged his mis en place in frustrated solitude.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation.

He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine.

He can be reached at: nroumel@nachtlaw.com

Published: Mon, Oct 10, 2011

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