The Musette: a riff on ratatouille and caponata

I generally love shopping daily, finding inspiration in the local shops and markets for the day’s meals. However, when I’m on my own, I’m quite happy to make a pot of something which I can use in a number of different ways for a variety of meals. Often necessity is the mother of invention and the dish comes from whatever I have sitting in the fridge.

I love Ratatouille, a dish hailing from Nice, because it’s one way of using the abundance of summer sun-ripened vegetables. As a general rule, I use equal quantities of each vegetable – tomatoes, peppers, onions, courgettes and aubergines. I would generally sauté each vegetable separately in olive oil and assemble them at the end, as in my lasagne recipe. This guarantees that each one retains its colour, flavour and texture. However, on my regime I’m not supposed to sauté vegetables in olive oil plus I didn’t have any courgettes, so I opted for a mix of the Niçois dish with some ingredients from one which is typically Sicilian, Caponata. Note, I used passata rather than fresh tomato sauce because I was also out of fresh tomatoes!

Ingredients (serves 6 as a side dish, or 4 as a main)

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (neutral flavoured)
  • 2 small aubergines, cut into 2cm (1″) cubes
  • 1 large red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli pepper, finely chopped, or tsp chilli flakes
  • 4 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 celery stalks or small fennel bulb, cut into 2cm (1″) pieces
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 150g (1 cup) black olives, pitted
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  •  500ml (2 cups) passata or 4 very large tomatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Method

1. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and place them in a  saucepan with a pinch of salt. Gently bring to the boil and cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened. Strain through a food mill or large-holed sieve to remove the skins.

2. Heat 1tbsp coconut oil a large saucepan, sweat the red onion, red chilli pepper, red pepper and garlic over a medium heat for 10 minutes until lightly caramelised. Add 2 tbsp of tomato paste and cook lightly to get rid of its raw flavour.

3. Now, add the diced aubergines, strained tomatoes or passata, and season. Bring to the boil, cover with greaseproof (parchment) paper, clamp on the lid and simmer gently for an hour. The parchment paper prevents the mixture from drying out. You’ll need to cook it for this long to soften the aubergine. Alternatively, fry both aubergine and pepper in olive oil and cook for only 20 minutes.

4. If the capers are salted, soak them for 2 minutes, then drain. If brined or in vinegar, drain and rinse. Add the capers and olives, stir and leave to sit for at least 2 hours, stirring gently once or twice. The finished dish needs to rest for at least an hour – ideally three. It’s even better the next day, and keeps well in the fridge for up to four days.

5. This dish can be served either at room temperature or cold, as a main or side dish. I also love it as a sauce with penne or heaped over some sweet potatoes or cauliflower rice.

6. You can make it more Sicilian by adding a handful of raisins, toasted pine nuts, a tbsp of sugar and 2 tbsp of red wine vinegar for a sweet-sour hit. I’ll often do this a couple of days later to give it a slightly different flavour.

The Musette: Breakfast muffins

I’ve always enjoyed porridge (made with water) for breakfast. I find it great fuel before a long week-end ride.

Cinnamon porridge with bananas, walnuts and a dash of maple syrup
Cinnamon millet porridge with bananas, walnuts and a dash of maple syrup

However, mid-week I often ride without eating any breakfast – allegedly it encourages fat-burning – and need a portable snack in my back pocket for when I run out of energy. I find I can easily ride for 90 minutes on an empty stomach, thereafter I really need something to eat.  Sadly, under my new regime I’m unlikely to find anything en route which meets the strictures of my dietary requirements, and the old days of treating myself to a coffee eclair and coke are long gone. Instead, I take a couple of readily portable porridge muffins which easily fit in my back pocket.

Ingredients (makes 6 muffins)

    • 2 ripe organic bananas approx. 250g (3/4 cup), without skins, mashed
    • 30g (1/4 cup) flaked millet
    • 90g (3/4 cup) gluten-free oats
    • 1 tbsp chia seeds
    • 3 tbsp water
    • 4 tbsp 100%  grade A maple syrup
    • heaped tsp mixed spices
    • 1/4 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
    • 1 tsp organic apple cider vinegar

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan) and line a muffin tin with six small muffin cases. You need to use cases otherwise the muffins will stick to the tin.

2. In a large glass bowl, stir the water and chia seeds together. Allow the to rest for 5-10  minutes until they become gloopy.

The bananas must be ripe and mashed
The bananas must be ripe and mashed

3. Measure and add all the remaining ingredients, stir lightly to combine.

Ready for the muffin cases
Ready for the muffin cases

4. Divide the mixture between the six cases – I use an ice-cream scoop. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the centres are firm to the touch.

Fill cases to brim as these are not going to rise much
Fill cases to brim as these are not going to rise much

5. Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes and then enjoy!

Ready for breakfast at home or on the go
Ready for breakfast at home or on the go

6. The muffins will keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for 3-4 days – if they last that long! No need to re-heat, they taste great cold.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the muffins in the oven, put the timer on for five minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. You can slightly under-bake small cakes as they’ll continue cooking for a few minutes after they come out of the oven.

4. Variations: substitute pumpkin, sweet potato or apple puree for the bananas. Feel free to add a few toasted chopped nuts such as almonds, pecans or walnuts for more crunch or raisins. Substitute flaked rice or ground almonds for the flaked millet or use 100% oats. Let your imagination run riot! Combine tastes and textures which you know go well together and, if necessary, add extra liquid in the form of non-diary milk, fruit juice or maple syrup to maintain a very soft pouring consistency.

The Musette: Turmeric Oat Pancakes

My beloved and I generally go for longer rides at the week-end, calling for a more substantial pre-ride breakfast. I haven’t made him pancakes for a while but I recently found a recipe for Turmeric Pancakes. Yes, I know that doesn’t sound terribly inviting but they were surprisingly fluffy and delicious. They also ensured I had my daily dose of turmeric.

Ingredients (makes 4-6 pancakes)

  • 150g oat flour (just grind oats in food processor)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple puree
  • 100ml non-dairy unsweetened milk (I used almond)
  • 2 tbsp of maple syrup
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Preheat heavy bottomed non-stick pan or grill.

2. Combine everything in a food processor. It should take no longer than 30 secs and the texture should be similar to softly dropping cake batter.

pancake1

3. Portion batter into equally sized portions (4 or 6) using an ice cream scoop, or something similar, and plop onto cooking surface. They should take 2-3 minutes to cook on each side. They’re quick substantial, so flip with a fish slice.

4. Serve with whatever takes your fancy: non-dairy yoghurt, maple syrup, fresh fruit or, in my beloved’s case, crispy smoked bacon and maple syrup!

 

Top fuel

I haven’t written much about my own cycling recently – not that there’s been much to write about! I first got back on the bike at the end of August and what a shock it was. It was like going back to when I first learned to ride my old mountain bike in early 2007. At first, it was a struggle riding my Cap d’Antibes loop and I couldn’t even manage the climb back up the Domaine. Very humbling!

Since then it’s been a bit stop-start, largely due to travel, the weather and any other excuse I could summon up. But I’ve gone back to basics – little and often. I’m still a long way off my best but I’m enjoying riding (on my own) again and I can now easily ride all the way back up to the apartment. And, as this month heralds much warmer weather, although I’m still wearing my 3/4 bib-shorts and long-sleeved jersey, I’m hoping to lay down a solid base that’ll allow me to rediscover all my favourite routes and climbs this summer.

Of course, before I head out for a ride I need to ensure I’ve properly topped up the tank. Initially on my new regime, which frankly is fast becoming my new permanent way of eating, I struggled most with breakfast. That was until I discovered avocado on toast in Australia. I can’t eat any animal fats and therefore have to make sure I get an adequate daily serving of vegetable and fish oils. I’ve always enjoyed avocado in salad, or with prawns, but never realised how delish it was on toast. More so for me since I can’t have butter or margarine and I’m not overly fond of nut butters, jam or honey. I find the first too claggy and the other two, too sweet.

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The trick is to use a perfectly ripe avocado, not as easy as it might seem. Pick one which still has its stem intact. If the avocado is ripe, you will be able to pull the stem out very easily. If the stem is already missing, hold the avocado in your hand and gently squeeze it. An unripe avocado will feel like a stone. An over-ripe avocado will feel loose under the skin. A ripe avocado will feel the same as if you were to squeeze the palms of your hands.

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I like to mash my avocado with a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a teaspoon of ground coriander, a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon (or lime) juice, a pinch of pepper and half a teaspoon of salt before piling it onto toasted spelt or sourdough bread. I might even top it with a few radishes, cherry tomatoes or freshly chopped coriander.

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If I don’t have any ripe avocados, I’ll pile chia jam onto my toast. Gently warm 500 grams (1lb) of chopped fresh fruit, in this case strawberries, juice of a small orange or lemon and a tablespoon of maple syrup either in a saucepan on the hob or in the microwave, just to help breakdown the fruit and extract its juices. When the fruit mixture is cool, I add two tablespoons of chia seeds, mix, pop it into a jar and place in the fridge overnight to set. I make it only in small quantities though it’ll happily keep for a week or so in the fridge.

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I’ll wash my toast down with a smoothie. Looks like a latte doesn’t it? But it isn’t, it’s a smoothie made with a glass of unsweetened almond milk, a teaspoon of turmeric, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a small frozen banana all whizzed up in the liquidiser. Then I’m good to go.