Off the Couch & Into the Kitchen

Lasagna Ratatouille Tart

Do any of you readers listen to Fresh Air on NPR? I for one, am an avid fan of Terry Gross, despite the ten thousand times she says, “um” in her interviews. I started downloading the podcasts to listen to during my eensy teensy 20 minute commute to work (not bad for Chicago eh? although yes, I cheat and drive – until September when I don’t have the excuse of carrying a chef’s uniform AND knife kit AND gym bag). It’s usually enough time to get the first half of Fresh Air in, although I will admit I do delete many of them and instead listen to classic rock. There’s nothing like hearing “Paradise City” or “Pinball Wizard” at 7:50 AM.

So earlier this week, guest host Dave Davies interviewed Michael Pollan, a food writer, journalist, and cookbook author (to download the interview, click here). Pollan recently wrote a cover story for the New York Times called “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch” where he chronicles the dramatic shift in our food pop culture, from the days of Julia Child to today’s Iron Chef America. In doing so, he expresses an unyielding concern (or fear, rather) that the days of home cooking are endangered, as even the shows have shifted toward treating cooking as more of a “sporting event” rather than actual educational episodes.

zucchini squashyellow squash

Is this true? Really? Help me here, because I’m obviously biased and could spend all my vertical moments in the kitchen whether it be destroying a gluten-free pie crust or making home-made pumpernickel bread. Is he right? Does the typical American spend more time watching food television than actually cooking? And if so, why? How has such an essential part of our being, those moments when we spend quality time with our family to discuss our failures and successes of the day while eating a fresh, soul-satisfying meal, mutated into 20 minutes in the kitchen (or ringing the first Thai restaurant on your speed dial) and hours upon hours of food TV?

I have to confess here, I love those shows that are akin to a sporting event, those shows that portray seasoned chefs battling it out and having a sweat-inducing fierce competition with the goal of an ultimate winner, or champion, at the end. I love them. Oh, and I find that we spend more time eating dinner while simultaneously watching a previously DVR’d show rather than at the table. But on the other hand, I have no problem setting aside time to cook – maybe not every night – but many. I get little shrills up & down my spine when I make something tasty, and then share it with those I love. Heck, I get shrills when I eat it myself.

tart assembly

I need ya’lls thoughts here. Seriously. Well, sorta seriously – I’m really just nosey. Do you really spend more time watching food tv than cooking? If so, what is it about those shows that draws you in, but doesn’t finish the job and make you run straight to the g-store, buy your goods, and whip that meal up (the one your mouth watered over) instantly? Do you get the sports analogy? I sure do..

And of equal pertinence, are you just dying to scroll to this recipe? You should be, peeps. I’m not sure what to call it, as I merged (sorta) two recipes. I suppose it’s a lasagna-ratatouille tart. But there’s no lasagna, per se but rather the innards of lasagna without the noodle and the tart in place of it. And there’s no eggplant which is totally typical in ratatouille. Although there could be…. if you want.

slice of lasagna ratatouille tart

Call it what you want, really. But either way, it’s damn good. And if cooking is not something you want to spend all your time doing, this here tart-sy makes 8 pieces so it should last a bit. Maybe. And it’s much easier than making lasagna – although the texture is similar. Have you heard that it’s summer squash season? If not, the word “summer” in front should have given that away…

Lasagna-ish Ratatouille-ish Tart
Inspired by 101 Cookbooks and Cuisine at Home, 2009

printable recipe

1 1/2 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
6 T butter, diced & chilled
3 T shortening, diced & chilled
3 T (+) ice water
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c diced onion
2 T olive oil
red pepper flakes
1 can diced tomatoes
1-2 yellow squash, thinly sliced (1/4″)
1-2 zucchini squash, thinly sliced (1/4″)
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (or other combo – I had about 3/4 cup at home and combined some parmesan and goat cheese as well as a little Boursin cheese spread to make 1 1/2 cups)
2 T thinly sliced basil
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella or other cheese for topping, optional
salt and pepper
olive oil for drizzling

To prepare tart dough, pulse flour, salt, pepper in food processor. Add butter and shortening and pulse until pea-sized clumps form. Add 3 T water, pulse to combine. Shape dough into flat disk and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Roll dough to 1/4 ” thickness and fit into 9-inch tart pan. Press to edge and trim excess. Cover w/ foil or parchment paper and fill with dry beans, weights, whatever. Bake about 25 minutes, remove foil and beans and bake 5 more minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, Stir garlic, olive oil, red pepper and a little salt into small saucepan. Bring to med-hi heat and once garlic sizzles, add tomatoes (drain them a little before adding). Simmer about 10 minutes and remove. Let cool.

Using a mandoline (or cutting carefully with a knife) slice zucchini and yellow squash into 1/4 inch disks and pat dry. Set aside.

Preheat again to 375 F. Mix cheese and basil in small bowl. Spread onto bottom of cooled pre-baked tart. Gently spread tomato sauce over cheese mixture. Arrange vegetables around edge of tart shell in whatever pattern you choose (I did outer of zucchini and alternated) Cover tart completely. Sprinkle top with 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or other cheese you have on hand that melts well). Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake tart at 375 F until tart is golden brown around the edge, about 30 minutes.

One thought on “Off the Couch & Into the Kitchen

  1. Jenn Sutherland says:

    Unfortunately, I do think most people watch more food than actually cooking it. But for folks like us, who not only love to cook, but share our recipes and thoughts on blogs, I'm definitely spending more time cooking and thinking about food than ever before, and partially Michael Pollan is the reason. After reading Omnivore's Dillemma two years ago, we upped our "local" intake by joining a veggie and meat CSA. And this time of year, it's certainly easy to eat from the local bounty!

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