Market To Table is a regular feature where we invite local Nashville chefs and foodies to join us at the Nashville Farmers Market, purchase ingredients, and turn them into an amazing dish of their choosing. We’re kicking things off with Garrett Pittler, executive chef at the soon-to-open Chelsea Bistro in Whites Creek.
Garrett’s choice of dish was ratatouille. “It’s seasonal, it’s a very easy dish, and it’s just good,” he said. “I think people are overcomplicating food again. A lot of people, and a lot of chefs in general, are getting back to simpler things. Ratatouille’s a peasant food. You have a zucchini, a yellow squash, an onion, an eggplant, and you make this dish – it’s just simple, simple, simple.”
We met up with Garrett early in the morning, just after the Market opened. As we shopped, we chatted about produce, the essence of ratatouille, and simplifying food in an overcomplicated world.
Garrett Pittler On…
With squash, you want a good color on the skin. You want them to be firm but not overly firm. I always like to make sure that the ends are on them; if you’re not going to cook this today, it’s going to last longer if the ends are on it. You want to make sure there are no breaks in the skin, too. Most people know what they’re looking for when they’re looking for good produce, but nobody’s ever explained it to them, you know? You can tell when something’s not right when you’re looking at a piece of fruit.
You’re really looking for the same quality you’re looking for with other vegetables, only an eggplant will tend to be a little softer. They shouldn’t be too rigid – that means it’s immature.
His favorite tomatoes
Brandywines, for raw application. Something with a little bit higher acidity level, like a Bradley or a Mortgage Lifter, is going to be a better cooking tomato.
Ratatouille’s a peasant food. Meat, you know, was not plentiful. It was for the king. And people in this country today, we eat like kings. We think we have to have meat at every meal. I don’t eat like that anymore.
When we were younger, (one of my vegetarian friends) and I used to have Steak Wednesday. We’d go out to one of those places – Logan’s or Outback, we didn’t know where to get a good steak – and we’d go out and eat steaks every Wednesday. I still love a good steak, but I don’t think my system can handle it once a week. I’m getting older, I don’t think I’d want to eat steak once a week. I’d need a container of Metamucil to get that whole thing worked out!
I get a lot of local farmers that deliver to me. There are farms around that we can gather from where our restaurant is in Whites Creek. And then on top of that I have a garden out back, which is soon to start producing more vegetables for the restaurant out back. So hopefully that’s going to be a really good option for us. I’d love to see how much we can really produce.
One of the goals with Chelsea Bistro is to really try working on what I would consider a sustainable restaurant. When you think about restaurants and sustainability you think about the farms – but how cool would it be if you could go eat a restaurant that was self-sustaining? Where we grow our own produce, we raise our own meat – we buy a little bit here to supplement, but 90 percent of what we do is self-sustainable. We recycle. We do all these things. Our carbon footprint is this big. I just think that would really be cool. That’s part of what we’re working towards with Chelsea Bistro – not only a true French bistro with true French food, but we’re also really working towards being sustainable.
It’s a label. It’s a government-issued label. Who cares about organic? Organic doesn’t mean anything except you can charge four more dollars a pound for it. (Instead) you can come and buy local.
And I guarantee you – what’s the big draw with organic? They’re not using pesticides. Who cares about pesticides as long as they’re using eco-friendly pesticides? I don’t want to buy fruit that’s had bugs crawling through it, or to have a crappy little fruit because they’ve picked it before a bug gets to it. There’s clean ways of doing it, to keep critters out of there. And if you want to keep the weeds out of your garden, use a little elbow grease. There’s a novel idea! The best way to keep things out of your garden is to pay attention to it. Put in a little work.
Everything doesn’t have to be set to some form of recipe. Yeah, follow the basics – but you can change it up. If there’s things that you don’t like, why not do other things? (Though) as far as I’m concerned, the one non-negotiable thing is eggplant. You have to have eggplant or it’s not ratatouille.
Even if you want to branch out when you make ratatouille, you’ll still want to know where to start. Here are the basic guidelines Garrett used to put together this dish:
Ratatouille, as prepared by Garrett Pittler
Serves 4 to 6
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
1 1/2 cups small diced yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups medium diced eggplant, skin on
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup diced zucchini squash
1 cup diced yellow squash
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon shaved parmesan
Drizzle of truffle oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Set a large 12-inch saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and garlic to the pan. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the eggplant and thyme to the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is partially cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini, and squash and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, and salt and pepper, to taste, and cook for a final 5 minutes.
Stir well to blend, dress with parmesan and truffle oil. Serve either hot or at room temperature.