Thursday, April 13, 2006

À la recherche du temps perdu

I found some beautiful, bright yellow tomatoes. They reminded me that spring is in full bloom here. The rain has gone, and everything is riotously green – for us anyways.

I didn’t have any illusions that the tomatoes would taste particularly good (they didn’t). It is apparently illegal to sell tomatoes with taste in southern California. So I was thinking for a few days how I could incorporate them into a dinner where the bright yellow color could be appreciated, but where the tomato taste (or lack thereof) would not kill the entire dish (see what we have to do around here to make food?!).

I wanted to pair them somehow with some obscenely large red bell peppers I had also bought. I think the red and yellow would make a bold statement.

But all the things that popped into my head featured the tomato taste too prominently. And they really didn’t have much taste – even after two days in a paper bag.

And then, as is usually the case around here, events and circumstances made the choice for me (there’s that serendipity again!). And that turned out to be good for everyone.

I spent the afternoon watching a track meet in which teengirl was competing (400 meters). At a brand new school – just built. Probably the first track meet ever held at the school.

But mostly I watched a lot of people from the new school run around a football field surrounded by a track like a bunch of crazy people. A sports event that should have taken 2 to 2 ½ hours stretched almost to 4 hours. And left me sitting in the setting sun on ice cold bleachers, remembering when I used to run around just such a track. And pushed my drive home well into the thick of the rush hour traffic.

I was almost hoping it would go a little slower so I could miss the traffic altogether.

But no such luck.

We got back pretty late. With no time to spend on the Internet looking up recipes. And a few things left to do that day before dinner anyways.

So we hit on the idea of sandwiches. Or, maybe something more like a French Pan-Bagnat. Layers of chicken (gotta love those leftovers!), yellow tomatoes, and maybe roast the red peppers and put them on too.

And I have eggplants! If I roast the red peppers, I can certainly roast the eggplants at the same time. With a little ricotta cheese spread on it (it was on sale), and a bold dressing of balsamic and Dijon. Everything piled onto that 2 day old loaf of French country bread that’s threatening to turn into a cracker. Toasted lightly to revive it.

And it turned out good. Real good. With a bottle of Médoc, a little salad on the side, and a CD of Chansons Françaises by Piaf, a remembrance of things past. It could have been that little café on the Rue de …..

Sandwich of Roasted Red Pepper, Roasted Eggplant, Chicken, Yellow Tomato and Ricotta with Balsamic Dijon dressing

1 loaf French country style bread, or a ciabatta, or something similar that is wide and flat
2 red peppers
2 yellow tomatoes, sliced
4 small eggplants, sliced into 4 slices each
2 cups ricotta cheese
Approximately 8 slices of roasted chicken breast (amount depends of how much you want per sandwich)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
½ shallot, minced
1 tsp marjoram, or oregano, or basil, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
olive oil
salt pepper

Heat oven to 450ºF.

Rub red peppers with olive oil. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil. Place both on parchment paper on baking sheets. Roast in oven for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the peppers occasionally, and the eggplant slices once, or until the eggplant slices are well browned, and the red peppers are blistered and blackened. Remove from oven. Reserve eggplant slices. Place peppers in a paper bag for 15 minutes. Peel peppers, cut each pepper into 4 long slices, and reserve.

In a small bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, mustard, herbs, salt and pepper. Whisk in olive oil in a slow stream until emulsified. Taste, and adjust seasonings, vinegar and oil as necessary.

Slice loaf of bread in half the long way. Cut each half into 4 even slices. Brush all eight slices with vinaigrette. Place 2 eggplant slices on each slice of bread. Spread eggplant slices with ricotta cheese.

At this point, the breads can be put under the broiler until the bread is heated through and the ricotta is browned in places. This step is optional (and depends on how old your bread is!).

Place 2 matching pieces of bread on plate, ricotta side up. Layer one side with chicken, and place 2 long slices of red pepper on top. Place 2 or 3 tomato slices on the other bread. Drizzle a little dressing over both sides of bread.

The sandwich can either be eaten open face as two independent sides, or the one side can be inverted on top of the other, and people with really big mouths (like teenboy) can stuff the whole thing in in one bite. Serve. Enjoy!

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