Sunday, July 22, 2007

La ratatouille

HO Chi-minh’s version of ratatouille had the oven-baked piperade and vegetables plus vinaigrette dressing all dumped into a pot, simmered for a few minutes and dished out as one does with bagnet or itag-spiked pinakbet. Chain-smoking Ho’s version lacked the opulence of extra virgin olive oil rounded out by a mélange of savory herbs—thyme, parsley, red-yellow-orange-black peppers, garlic and onions.

And Ho had to do cooking outside a kitchen—plus guerrilla warfare on the side-- mostly in the outdoors grabbing every available edible ingredient the landscape offers. His version features wild mushrooms, most likely picked fresh off rain-drenched ground.

Whaddaheck, cookery demands an intimacy and respect that borders on reverence for each condiment and element that goes into pot, pan, or whatever available implement—why, thin slices of beef, a drizzle of soy sauce, some rosemary and mungbean sprouts can be whipped up as luscious sukiyaki off the flat side of a mattock.

Cooking calls for an affinity with rasalasa sa wikang Pilipino. It’s the animating spirit, the animus mundi or élan vital in a work of art that gives it life, makes it endure. Artworks can be drama, dance, cookery, painting or a beat-the-deadline piece of writing like this one. There’s a throbbing soul within a piece of work that can reach out. It can touch.

Now, ratatouille is humble fare. Its ingredients proclaim an asceticism that genuflects on soft loam. That’s where the recipe’s main elements are grown in—zucchini, eggplants, squash, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, thyme, and black pepper whose flavors are uplifted in a libation of extra virgin olive oil. It’s an all-vegetable symphony of flavors for those of spartan palates—nothing as resplendent as itag or as exotic as bagnet that trots out the flavors of vegetables reared in harsh soils.

To partake of food is to sit before an altar. That is, to reflect and pay respects to whims of nature and vagaries in human toil.

That’s a sigh before banging out something not too easy to chew from a study tabbed as “Altering Portion Sizes and Eating Rate to Attenuate Gorging during a Fast Food Meal: Effects on Energy Intake.”

Uh, ‘em study subjects must be of the porcine species being fattened for the slaughter, so they wolf down whatever’s dumped into the trough.

“Whenever approximately three-fourths of the extra-large meal portion of chicken nuggets or fries had been consumed, a refill portion was added to the tray. Empty soda containers were refilled with full containers immediately. Ketchup and sweet and sour sauce could be obtained from the center of the table.

“By using this standardized protocol, we provided more of the items that each subject enjoyed most and would be likely to order in large portions when given the option.”

Contents of slop dumped into the standardized protocol trough were 10 pieces of fried chicken nuggets (160 grams) with a six-piece (100 g.) refill; 172-gram large serving of French fried plus 65-gram refill; a 20-ounce bottle of cola and a so-called bottomless refill; four 32-g. packets of ketchup and two 60-gram packets of sweet and sour sauce.

“Our findings suggest that excess energy intake during an extra-large fastfood meal is not attributable simply to distorted visual cues regarding consumption of foods and beverage or inadequate time for development of satiety signals.”

Such stack of words can leave you cold.

So relish that scene in the animation film Ratatouille where food critic Anton Ego savors a tidbit of piperade. His mien suddenly lights up. That dainty bit on the tongue triggers a wave of childhood memories. And all he had before him was a frugal serving of humble fare.

Less can be more: it was filling and fulfilling fare.

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