Monday, September 3, 2007

Faux French, So Good

It all started with the bread. On a late-night Friday run to Wild Oats to pick up milk for breakfast, I was perusing the bakery breads, trying to decide if I wanted to splurge. I found several small, beautiful loaves of bread marked as “Organic Peasant Rye Petit.” They were so cute and smelled so delicious that I had to take one home. It was only after I bought the bread that I realized I needed an appropriate soup to go with my bread. A peasant bread needs a peasant soup, or at least a nice soup filled with vegetables and savory herbs. I flipped through my binder of old Vegetarian Times recipes and came across a recipe for Provencal Chili, which is described as a “light, brothy chili that’s based on a classic French ratatouille.” Sounded perfect!

It turns out that the real star of this chili is eggplant. I’m a little intimidated by eggplant; I blame it on lack of experience. My mother doesn’t do much with eggplant to my knowledge, so I didn’t acquire eggplant expertise in her kitchen. I think I have cooked with eggplant exactly one other time in my life; it was with my friend Nicole and we were making a casserole that called for eggplant. The casserole was delicious, and working with eggplant didn’t seem too difficult. So I thought I would give this soupy chili a shot and see what happened…

Oh, my, was it wonderful. Delicious chunks of eggplant and zucchini bathed in a wonderful herby broth with accents of white beans, tomatoes, and onions. Those herbes de Provence are really good stuff—and I didn’t even know what I was doing! I tossed together a homemade batch of herbes de Provence and hoped for the best. My hopes were met by the Cooking Gods! I’m so glad I didn’t run out and purchase a commercially made herbes de Provence blend because my homemade version was wonderful (and now that I’m done bragging, you know how completely immodest I am!). Mostly I was just trying to be thrifty because I already own most of the herbs that make up herbes de Provence. Furthermore, I had bought a cute little jar from Cost Plus World Market to be used especially for homemade herb/spice blends, and I wanted to put it to good use. (I also use these jars for my salt and “hippie sugar.” “Hippie sugar,” as Tom-the-guy-I-met-at-The-Celtic-Knot explained, is any sort of raw, unprocessed sugar such as raw cane sugar. Hippie sugar is very tasty but doesn’t always work well for baking because its huge rough crystals. It works well when dissolved into coffee or tea.)

So dinner was white bean soup provencal and peasant rye bread. Dessert was a new creation of mine that I feel compelled to share with the world because it is just so delicious: Raspberry Cookie Pudding. Inspired by Mollie Katzen’s Tiramisu in a Cup (also delicious) in her beautiful Sunlight Café cookbook, I made a few substitutions and voila! Raspberry Cookie Pudding, a creamy, slightly decadent, cold summer dessert.

White Bean Soup Provencal
Adapted from Provencal Chili, Vegetarian Times, January 2006
Serves many! (I will provide a more exact number of servings after I finish off this batch.)

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
1 large purple eggplant (~ 1 lb), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces*
3 small zucchini, ends cut off and discarded (or saved to make soup stock!), quartered lengthwise and then cut into ~1-inch-length pieces
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 14.5-oz. cans Great Northern white beans, drained and lightly rinsed
1 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. herbes de Provence**
1 tsp. salt
Vegetable broth and/or water (several cups)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For serving: Delicious bakery bread

1) Add olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add onions to the skillet and sauté for several minutes to soften onions, stirring often.
2) While onions are cooking, prep the eggplant and zucchini (peeling and/or chopping as instructed above if you haven’t already prepped them).
3) When the onions are done, scrape them into a large soup pot along with all of the rest of the ingredients. Add enough vegetable broth and/or water to cover ingredients. Bring the contents of the soup pot to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for ~30 minutes or so until the eggplant is tender. Stir the soup every ten minutes or so during the simmering time.
4) Taste the soup (be careful here; it’s really hot! Blow on a spoonful of chili first to cool it down before tasting.) and add more salt and/or pepper as desired.
5) Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with hunks of delicious peasant bread. Of course like any soup or chili, you can top it with some cheese or any other goodies you like. The original recipe suggests topping it with grated Gruyere cheese for a nice French twist.

*For some excellent eggplant advice, I highly recommend the guidelines given by Crescent Dragonwagon in Passionate Vegetarian.

**To make a homemade herbes de Provence, I tossed together the following: 2 tsp. each of fennel seed, marjoram, sage, basil, oregano, and thyme and ½ tsp. of rosemary. I’m not a huge fan of rosemary, but if you are, feel free to add up to 2 tsp. of rosemary to your blend.

Raspberry Cookie Pudding
Inspired by Tiramisu in a Cup from Sunlight Café by Mollie Katzen
Makes 4 moderate servings or 2 very generous servings

This is a wonderful make-ahead dessert. The flavors mingle and marry during refrigeration, so feel free to make this pudding a day or two ahead of time. It’s also very good when made on the day you plan to serve it.

For the Raspberry Sauce:
~1 cup frozen raspberries, thawed
Honey to taste

¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup lowfat ricotta cheese
1 tbsp. brown sugar
12 vanilla sandwich cookies, preferably trans-fat free (I like the Wild Oats storebrand Vanilla Sandwich Cremes)

1) To make the Raspberry Sauce, puree the raspberries in a food processor with a bit of honey (1-2 tbsp.). Taste, add more honey if needed, and puree again. Repeat tasting/adding honey/pureeing until the raspberries are sweet enough to you. I like my raspberries lightly sweetened so that they are still a little tart; a tart Raspberry Sauce goes well with the rich sweetness of the cookies.
2) Coarsely chop the chocolate chips. Place in a bowl.
3) In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta cheese with the brown sugar.
4) Dessert assembly time! Pick your dessert serving dish: dessert ramekins, deep soup bowls (my choice), or even cereal bowls—whatever you have on hand. You’ll need two of them. Spread a spoonful of ricotta cheese on the bottom of each dish. Layer three cookies on top of the cheese and top the cookies with generous spoonfuls of Raspberry Sauce, using the back of your spoon to spread the Sauce. Layer more cheese and top the cheese with a tablespoonful of chocolate chips. Repeat the cookie-Raspberry Sauce-ricotta cheese-chocolate chip layering, ending with chocolate chips. Sprinkle any leftover chocolate chips on top.
5) Wrap dishes with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until serving time. Serve cold, preferably by splitting a bowlful with your sweetheart. I’m single—any takers? :-)


The Peanut Butter Boy said...

That raspberry cookie pudding sounds delectable! The use of ricotta reminds me of a pumpkin mousse that I make. I don't have the recipe on hand but I'll find it and post it soon, I have a feeling you'd love it. It only has 3 ingredients if I recall correctly, pumpkin puree, ricotta cheese and honey. It's out of this world, healthy and tastes like pumpkin pie. Ok, my mouth is watering, I'll get the recipe up soon!

- The Peanut Butter Boy

Unknown said...

Hi, Nick! Ooh, pumpkin ricotta mousse sounds dreamy. I'd pair it with some crunchy sugar cookies or graham crackers to play against the creaminess.

I also have a ricotta mousse dessert that will be making its debut here soon...great minds think alike!

Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe is the book that really got me into using ricotta cheese, especially in desserts. I just adore that book! She has a selection of ricotta muffins that I make all the time. They have a lot to offer nutritionally (protein, carbs, and a moderate amount of fat), so they are a good afternoon snack when I'm at work.

Unknown said...

I was researching herbs de Provence recipes for my blog (Southern Fried French) and came across your great site! I live in France--it's not so faux! Can't wait to make the soup AND the pudding.

Unknown said...

Hi Lynn! I'm happy you found me. The internet is so great. As for the "faux," I didn't want to claim too much authenticity since I've never been to France. But I do love a culture that takes such great pride in their food. I hope France is treating you well.