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Bert Greene's Kitchen

Ratatouille, Crepe Recipes That May Deserve a Culinary Comeback

August 13, 1987|Bert Greene's Kitchen

Like fluctuating hemlines, certain dishes rise up and then almost immediately fall out of fashion with alarming predictability.

And, something fresh on the food scene today is almost certain to appear stale tomorrow. Particularly if a much-touted food (like croissants, chocolate truffles or goat cheese) has already begun to filter into Middle America's culinary consciousness. For, as a food critic I know rather succinctly put it: "What's hot in Omaha or Dubuque these days is sure to seem very old in New York or Los Angeles."

Outdated Trends

When I entered the kitchen professionally 20 years ago, dishes like quiche Lorraine and lobster crepe were the hottest accomplishments in a chef's repertoire. Now, a budding chef would have a hard time getting a job in any trendy restaurant with either of those menu items listed on his resume. No matter that each is still delicious and eminently satisfying to consume when properly prepared--these dishes have simply become passe in today's culinary lexicon.

Back in the mid '60s I co-partnered what is sometimes called "the first upscale take-out food shop in the United States," the Store in Amagansett, N.Y. The amount of quiche and crepe prepared for our clientele the first season almost repaid the bank loan that I got to finance the business.

Years later, I figured we sold 500,000 quiche in the decade of the Store's operation. But truthfully, I never considered making or ordering another quiche afterward. Because, like everybody else, I have a short attention span at the table.

When we offered ratatouille as a cold salad in 1967, not one person who ordered a portion could pronounce it let alone know what the curious combination of cooked peppers, squash, eggplant, tomatoes and onions tasted like. It took 10 years for the dish to become first a habit, then a has-been. Fickleness of appetite seems to be a national frailty.

Staples of the Diet

In Europe and Asia too, foods stay in style for centuries since they are part of life's function rather than a culinary exercise.

Even in France, where most trends are spawned, there is a healthy regard for the old and the traditional, concurrent with whatever fad the arbiters of fashion herald at the moment.

Consider a list of foods consumed 10 or 20 years ago, and you'll be hard-pressed to note a hint of roasted peppers, cilantro, blue cornmeal, radicchio or white chocolate among the diet of cold pasta salads, pesto sauces, stir-fry and kiwi-dappled nouvelle cuisine offerings.

If you are pondering the object of this diatribe, it is simply that Americans' tastes change quickly. But take heart. There is hope for every currently unfashionable dish. As a nation we are also ready for a "comeback."

A favorite dish of mine, albeit out-of-style this year, is ratatouille.

BAKED BLAZING RATATOUILLE WITH SHRIMP

1 cup yellow onions, finely sliced

Butter

1/2 pound eggplant, sliced 3/8 inch thick

1/2 pound zucchini, sliced 3/8 inch thick

2 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons crushed chiles

2 green peppers, seeded and cut in strips

1 pound small ripe tomatoes, quartered

1 cup white onions, finely sliced

Coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 pound shrimp, shelled, deveined

1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley

Place layer of yellow onions in bottom of large buttered earthenware pot. Follow with layer of eggplant and then layer of zucchini.

Mash garlic in small bowl with back of spoon. Sprinkle garlic and chiles over zucchini. Continue layering with green peppers, then tomatoes and white onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue layering until all vegetables are used. Drizzle oil over top and cover.

Bake at 250 degrees until vegetables have cooked together, 6 or 7 hours. Remove from oven. Raise heat to 400 degrees. Layer shrimp over top of vegetables. Spoon juices over top. Cover and bake 10 minutes longer. Cool and coarsely chop. Garnish with parsley. Serve hot or cold. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

The following recipe produces the best, brightest and lightest pancakes you will ever eat. The secret is old and straight off a cornstarch package: Airy cornstarch is substituted for heavy flour. The filling is a new version of the familiar coquille St. Jacques.

JOCKEY CREPES

2 eggs

3/4 cup milk

6 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon oil

2 teaspoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 tablespoons minced shallots

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 pound bay scallops

1/2 teaspoon minced chiles or 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh cilantro or dash dried coriander

1/8 teaspoon anchovy paste

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup whipping cream or half and half

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

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