Friday, November 10, 2006

Alaskan Ratatouille Rolls, the faux-Ulu way

My gentleman friend recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Juneau,
Alaska. In addition to a board game which has taught me more about whales than I ever would have thought possible or desirable, he brought back a cookbook that seems to have been underwritten by the Great Northern Cutlery Company of Anchorage. Every recipe contains at least one reference to your Ulu knife, a crescent-shaped implement “that has been an important tool to native Alaskans for more than 5000 years.”

Um…Is that a typo in the original source material?

At any rate, these babies are apparently sharp enough to skin moose and seal, but all you’d be doing with one is cutting zucchini. I myself do not own an Ulu knife. I guess they’re sold separately, or maybe it came down to a choice between the Ulu knife and the Whale game. My rickety old chef’s knife got the job done just fine, as far as I can tell. But what do I know? I admit I was kind of surprised that zucchini isn’t considered a specialty item up Alaska-way.

Alaskan Ratatouille Rolls, the faux-Ulu way

Get out your (ulu) knife and prepare to cut a medium-sized eggplant, 2 average zucchini, a small onion and a respectable poblano pepper into cubes of roughly the same dimensions the Jolly Green Giant considers standard. If poblano peppers are hard to come by in your area, you can do things the way they do ‘em in Alaska and revert to green peppers, my all-time least favorite vegetable, at least as far as the lower 48 is concerned.

Mince some garlic with your (ulu) knife.

Fire up the burner / home-cured moose dung charcoal to medium to heat the quarter cup of olive oil you’ve poured into a large skillet. Add the vegetables and garlic, and sauté for 5 minutes.

Chop up a couple of tomatoes and toss them in there too. Don’t be ashamed if you’ve only got canned – that’s what the recipe calls for. Native Alaskans have been using canned tomatoes for nearly as long as they’ve been using their ulu knives. I only used fresh because Greg inexplicably brought some home (from Fairway, not Fairbanks) and I’d grown sick of waiting for them to rot.

3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
& a fistful of basil.
Throw a lid on, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, thaw a pound of frozen, cooked shrimp in a bowl placed under a trickle of cold water. With five minutes remaining ‘til blast off, add the shrimp to the vegetable mix, or the “ratatouille” as it shall henceforth be known.

As the end of simmering time approaches, take your baguette out of your pants and slice the uppermost crust off. This represents one of the few non-ulu-related acts of cutting in the book, perhaps because a serrated knife is one’s undeniable best bet here. Cut into sandwich sized lengths, then use your fingers to hollow out a canoe-like cavity, making sure an unmolested wall remains at either end of the “roll”. Repeat with baguette number two (or live with the idea of squishing as much ratatouille as possible into one baguette’s worth, heaping the rest onto the plate as a sort of duplicate side dish). Put them on a cookie sheet and park it in a 350º oven for 5 minutes.

When the rolls are warm, fill ‘em up with shrimp-fortified ratatouille. Top each with a handful of shredded mozzarella and slide that cookie sheet under the broiler for the minute or two it would take you to clean your (ulu) knife after an average, non-Moose-related job.

Wait, what the hell was he doing in Alaska, other than claiming he didn’t steal the towel the hotel wanted to charge his benefactors 30 bucks to replace? Make a wish upon your (ulu) knife, and if all the stars align, you might just see a production of a certain yeast-based musical in Juneau sometime in the nearish futurer.


Anonymous Gabriel said...

I miss the ulu knife of my childhood.

5:30 PM  

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