Cooking with Offspring
Not long ago I bought my son a chef’s knife. He’s 19 and attending college virtually, but he’s going to be there in-person before long and he’s expressed an interest in cooking.
Recently he asked whether we could get together and make a dish called confit biyaldi – it’s the variation on ratatouille that was featured in the movie of the same name. I did a deep dive on ratatouille about five years ago, and I cooked multiple versions of the dish, including the rat’s version, which is generally attributed to Chef Michel Guérard, one of the founders of nouvelle cuisine.
I have a copy of one of Guérard’s cookbooks, “Cuisine Minceur,” about which I’ve written in the past. In that book, the chef took the “new” French cooking in a healthier direction, and frankly I find it more of a historical curiosity than something I use.
Nouvelle Cuisine was, broadly, an attempt to break with what some chefs in France in the 1960’s felt was the stifling rules of classic haute cuisine. Many of these chefs had traveled the world and they wanted to use ingredients and techniques not typically thought of as French. They wanted to move away from heavy sauces and they gave greater emphasis to an artistic plating of their food. It’s hard to overstate how important Nouvelle Cuisine was to the way professional chefs cook today. It was a revolutionary movement and, sometimes, it went a bit far.
Some chefs were too fond of serving small portions of food on huge plates, and then with cuisine minceur, Guérard tried to reduce the fat and other foods considered unhealthy even further. He was still French, so there’s butter and olive oil in the food, but nowhere near the amount in classic recipes or even in dishes created by his contemporaries in the Nouvelle Cuisine movement.
Confit Biyaldi is, however, glorious even if it’s also pretty healthy. To make it, you use the primary ingredients in traditional, stewed ratatouille: eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and tomatoes, and slice them very thinly before layering them over a piperade sauce and then slowly baking at a moderate temperature until the vegetables soften and the flavors meld.
If you do a search online, you’ll see many different approaches to the dish, and certainly won’t claim mine is the best or even “authentic,” whatever that means these days. What I really like about this dish in terms of cooking it with my son is that it allows me to explain a number of things in one dish. It’s important to cut the vegetables and tomatoes not just thinly, but to a uniformly. Doing so allows the vegetables to become tender at the same time. It allows me to demonstrate the technique for making a sauce that ends up being blended or pureed; something he can use for multiple other sauces.
It allows me to talk about the difference between high-heat, quick cooking and going low and slow. It lets me break out the mandoline, show him a couple of techniques for peeling tomatoes and use my brand new Vitamix blender. It’s a great teaching recipe, and while it’s not really the season for the dish, I was pleased as punch when he suggested making it with me. We made a lot of it, and it turned out pretty well. Mostly we just scooped it out of the pan, but I felt like we ought to make an attempt to plate one. I hope you get to cook with family, or if you’re not able to due to current circumstances, that you can do so in the near future.