Ok, so the name is sometimes more fun than the dish itself. Ratatouille evokes all kinds of call-outs and tabletop drumming from me, in an effort to convince Brian of its viability as a recipe to remain in our files. It starts one Saturday morning at the farmer’s market, as we pass a table full of deep-purple eggplant and I turn to Brian to ask “how about ratatouille this week?”. He’ll snarl a little, let out an “eh” and shrug his shoulders. This happens for a few consecutive Saturdays, until finally I’ll say, “come on...rat-a-tat-toooooouuuuuille!” and he’ll grin and agree that this can be the week for our once-a-year ratatouille night.
For me, it wouldn’t be the end of summer without the classic eggplant, zucchini and tomato-laden dish. It feels like a last-hurrah for the final produce of the season and the perfect start to autumn, when I start craving meals of its kind. It is homey and hearty, a melding of flavors served warm over pasta and topped with shaved parmesan cheese. I like to dunk a couple of thick slices of crusty french bread into the juices, and usually pair the meal with one of my first glasses of red wine of the season. Its tradition, and one that I cling to mightily despite a little resistance.
For Brian, ratatouille is just a little “blah”. He doesn’t mind it so much, but would prefer that we skip straight from summer salads to creamy potato cheese soup and pans full of bubbly lasagna. Typically, after we’ve purchased our eggplant Saturday morning, it will sit on the countertop for a couple of days until finally, on the cusp of its transition from firm and fleshy to soft and dimpled, I’ll convince Brian that “tonight is rat-a-tat-touille night!” and it will be peeled, cubed, salted and tossed in a pan with a glug of olive oil, freshly diced zucchini and a generous pile of minced garlic.
After some silly names, a few tabletop drumming performances and maybe a little ratatouille dance, it is the smell that will finally bring Brian around - his nose leads him to the kitchen and he’ll sheepishly tell me “it smells really good in here, honey”. The eggplant is set aside, and in its place onion and bell pepper start sizzling away. Tomatoes are added, and as their juice is released the eggplant is tossed back into the pan. All is covered and simmered until the eggplant is silky and the zucchini and peppers are just tender. Pasta is boiled, parmesan is shaved and bread is sliced. Dinner is served alongside glasses of red wine, in the golden light of the fading sun and suddenly, it is Fall.
Basic Ratatouilleadapted from the joy of cookingover pasta, this will serve 4
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tbsp
2 medium eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
4-5 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 large bell peppers, red, yellow or orange, cut into 1-inch squares
1-1/2 cups chopped and seeded fresh tomatoes (I used romas. the recipe says to peel them, I did not.)
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme (oregano is good as well)
2 bay leaves
salt + pepper
After peeling and chopping your eggplant, place it in a colander and sprinkle with course sea salt. Let sit for 30 minutes to release some of the liquid, rinse well and pat dry.
Heat the oil over high heat and add the eggplant and zucchini. Saute' for about 8 minutes, then add the garlic. Continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes until the veggies are golden and just tender. (This timing will depend on the freshness of your eggplant. You don't want it to get too soft, so watch closely.)
Remove the vegetables from the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high. Drizzle in the 2 tbsp of olive oil and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes until the veggies are just tender but not browned. Season with salt and pepper to tasted.
Add tomatoes, thyme and bay leaf. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the eggplant mixture and cook until everything is tender 10-20 minutes. (Again, this depends on your veggies. You want the eggplant to be silky but not falling apart, and the other veggies to be tender but not mushy.) Taste and adjust your seasonings.
* We decided after this go-round that the ratatouille could be improved with the addition of some red pepper flakes. I'd add about a 1/4 tsp, depending on your tastes, when you add the onion and bell pepper to the pan.
* Another possibility, if you're not a fan of spicy food, is to add capers. I had a bruschetta recently with eggplant, onion, tomato and capers that was absolutely delicious, so think they'd be lovely in the ratatouille as well. I'd start with a tablespoon, added with the tomatoes, and add more if you feel it is necessary.
Even though we've only lived here four years, Brian and I have fallen completely in love with Charlottesville. One of the things we enjoy most about this little city is the strong local food movement. We visit the farmer's market each weekend during the season to gather our meat, eggs and produce for the week (whatever we're not growing in our own garden) and have long conversations with our favorite farmers. We get to see photographs of the chickens who lay our eggs pecking the ground in their grassy field, the cows and their new calfs, and the bee hives housing the bees that are pollinating the plants from which our vegetables grow.
It is undoubtably our favorite part of the week, and we make sure to leave ourselves with plenty of time to talk to Richard about the problems we are having with our own tomato plants and to gush to Jean about the magic of her hens’ eggs. We have a direct connection to the people who supply the food on our table, something that I think the majority of the world population doesn’t have and may not understand.
I know that we're very fortunate, and was reminded of it again last week when I made this vegetable frittata. As we sat down to eat I realized that every single ingredient, except for the parmesan cheese and olive oil, was locally grown. The eggs, milk, bell pepper, leeks and zucchini all came from the farmers' market, and the herbs were grown in our own garden. How cool is that?!? I'm not trying to rub it in, I'm really not, I just had to share with you all the amazing feeling that I had knowing that our dinner was not only delicious, but also supporting our local farmers.
With Food, Inc. just out (which I haven't seen yet, gasp!) I've read a lot more chatter in the food blog world about being aware of where our food comes from. Its exciting, and I'm so glad to see bloggers with serious readership and influence supporting the cause. To join in, I wanted to share a couple of sites I've recently read about that may help you discover local food providers in your area. And, for my Charlottesville readers, I've added a new local page to the top bar. I know that I am probably missing a lot of great resources so if you have any to add, please leave a comment!
I challenge you all to make this frittata and try to include at least one local ingredient, even if it is just herbs from pots on your porch. Every little bit counts!
Feel free to switch up the veggies, the recipe is very versatile. And delicious too, I might add.
Farmers' Market Frittata
8 large eggs
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt (for a silkier texture) or 1/2 cup whole milk
4-5 good grinds of sea salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh chives, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped to 1/4-inch dice
1 zucchini, chopped to 1/4-inch dice
1 leek, white and pale green part only, halved then sliced thinly
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Whisk together eggs, salt, pepper and yogurt or milk until smooth. Add minced herbs and stir well, set aside.
Heat oil in 10 or 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper, zucchini and leek. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until veggies are tender.
Increase heat to medium-high. Pour egg mixture over veggies evenly. Cook on medium high for 3-4 minutes, tilting pan and lifting edges of frittata to allow raw egg to run underneath.
Lower heat to low, cover pan and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes, until frittata is mostly set. Shake pan occasionally while cooking. Meanwhile, place a rack at the top of the oven and turn broiler on to high.
Remove frittata from stovetop when it is mostly set. Sprinkle cheese across top and place in oven, under broiler. Broil for 1-2 minutes, watching carefully to not let it get to brown. You just want a few spots of brown across the top, and bubbly cheese.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in pan for about 5 minutes. Remove to cutting board or large plate, cut into wedges and serve.
Zucchini has been gracing the booths of the farmer’s market for several weeks now. I’ve picked some up each Saturday, usually to use in simple pasta dinners or grilled alongside chicken or fish. This week I decided it was time for some zucchini bread, and knew just the recipe I wanted to modify to accommodate the green squash - Molly Wizenburg’s banana bread from A Homemade Life, which I made several weeks ago.
Now, admittedly, I didn’t substitute zucchini in this recipe for its flavor. Its so mild on your palette that the stronger flavors of dark chocolate, ginger, cinnamon and cloves overpower its delicate scent. What I wanted from the zucchini was the moisture that the banana typically provides without adding an additional competitor to the mix. You see, while Molly’s recipe was quite good, for me the combination of banana, chocolate and ginger was a bit overwhelming. Maybe its because I am a banana bread purist, and want the banana to be the center of attention even when complimented with another ingredient like apples or dates.
I did, however, love the idea and taste of chocolate and dried ginger combined together in a loaf, and decided to seek out another way to utilize it. Enter the zucchini, and a few other substitutions that I like to make to any bread recipe I re-create. White whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose, turbinado sugar in place of refined, fat free greek yogurt in place of regular whole milk yogurt. Throw in a couple of additional spices (cinnamon and clove) and a 12-cup tin instead of a loaf pan and the result is a muffin that is perfectly moist, not too sweet, hearty enough for breakfast yet satisfying as a dessert with a tall glass of milk or hot cup of tea.
Because these muffins are very moist, I suggest eating them within 3 days if you’re going to keep them on your countertop in an airtight container. Refrigeration would probably save them from mold for a few days longer, but I didn’t try that so I can’t tell you what happens to their texture. I did freeze 1/2 the batch though, and am hoping that Molly’s claim that her bread freezes extraordinarily well will extend to my muffins.
If you’re interested in the original banana bread recipe, you can find it reviewed here.
If you fill the cups to the tip-top, you will be left with 12 delicious yet oddly-shaped muffins. Fill them 3/4’s of the way full, and you’ll probably have enough batter left for two additional muffins if its worth it to you to dirty another pan. I didn’t mind their appearance, since they were just for Brian and I to share.
Zucchini Muffins with Dark Chocolate and Gingeradapted from the banana bread recipe in A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg, pg 26
6 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup turbinado sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped dried ginger (not crystalized, although I'm sure it would work fine too)
2 large eggs
3 cups coarsely shredded zucchini (about 2 medium zucchini)
5oz container of fat free vanilla-flavored greek yogurt (I used Oikos)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Set a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350*. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or butter.
In a small bowl, microwave the butter until just melted. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ground cloves. Add the chocolate chips and ground ginger and stir well to combine.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the yogurt, melted butter and vanilla and mix well. Add the zucchini and stir to coat.
Pour the zucchini mixture into the dry ingredients and stir gently with a rubber spatula until just combined. Make sure to incorporate all flour but do not overmix.
Spoon the batter into wells of muffin tin, using spoon to pack it down. If you don't want your muffins to overflow like mine did, just fill the wells to 3/4 of the way to the top. This will leave some batter leftover, but only enough for maybe 2 muffins. If you don't mind oddly shaped tops, just fill the wells evenly until you've used all of the batter.
Bake for 25-30 minutes (mine took 28 minutes), until a tester inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove muffins from pan to cool completely on rack.
My dear readers...I've missed you! I won't apologize because you all were so kind to point out after my last absence that I have no reason to, but I will say that life has been, in one word, busy. The kind of busy that comes with having a house guest for two full weeks. The kind of busy that sends you to Florida for an unexpected family emergency. The kind of busy that keeps you in the office until 3am to meet a deadline. The kind of busy that leaves you with little time to cook, let alone time to write about what you cook.
And, in the midst of all of that busyness, I've become completely obsessed with this book. And this one. So, the little spare time I've been able to find over this last week (you know, like when I should be sleeping), I've spent engrossed in the world of Edward and Bella. Its been so long since I've read a romance, let alone a fantastical one involving vampires and werewolves, that I'd forgotten how nice it is to step out of my own busy world for chunks of time to get lost in a fictional one. I don't know how I managed to resist the inexplicable pull of the saga for so long, especially with all of the hype the movie created last fall (which I finally watched last weekend in Florida with my stepsisters and which led to my buying the first book in the airport on the way back home) but the escape has been welcome. I feel a bit silly, especially when I read reviews that state "teens will relish this newest adventure...", but as a friend pointed out, there's just something about a good vampire romance that the female population can't resist, no matter how juvenile the books may be. And this female can't disagree.
When life gets hectic Brian and I try to plan meals that are quick to prepare and last for days. Our crock pot comes in handy on these occasions, acting as our own personal chef slaving away while we're at the office. This particular soup was the result of us running home on our lunch break to read a chapter of Twilight let our dogs out and discovering while hastily making sandwiches for lunch that we had some veggies in the fridge that needed to be used up. Knowing that there would be no time after work to prepare dinner (this was to be the 3am night), I pulled down the trusty crock pot and got to work. In one hour's time Brian and I ate lunch, made dinner, cleaned the kitchen AND I got a little reading in. Talk about productive.
That evening I hurried home, ladled soup into pyrex bowls, grabbed a bottle of wine and our dogs and got back to work. Even though dinner was eaten while sitting in front of my computer it felt good to know that it was homemade and healthy, so much better than the take-out that is usually consumed on such late nights.
This week will be busy as well (I had to work this weekend to prepare for it) but hopefully things will be back to normal soon. And, I'm halfway through the Twilight saga, for which my kitchen (and my husband!) will be grateful, I'm sure.
Obviously this recipe can be modified in many ways to suit different tastes. I personally think that adding a bit of spice to the broth would be delicious.
Crock Pot Minestroneserves 6, or 2 for three meals
1 large zucchini, or 2 small, diced into bite-size chunks
2 summer squash, diced into bite-size chunks
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped ham
28-oz can of diced tomatoes (I used the kind with basil)
8 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh oregano
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup dried cannellini beans
1 cup Israeli cous-cous, or other small pasta
2 large handfuls of fresh spinach
Put the chopped zucchini, squash, bell pepper, ham, tomatoes, beans, bay leaves and fresh thyme in the crock pot.
Heat oil over medium heat in saute' pan. Add onion and saute' for 3 minutes. Add garlic and fresh oregano and saute' an additional minute. Add mixture to crock pot and put pan back on heat.
Add chicken broth to saute' pan to de-glaze the pan. Pour into crock pot.
Cook soup on high for 6 hours. When the beans are tender, add the cous-cous or pasta and fresh spinach. Place lid back on crock pot and continue to cook until pasta is tender and spinach is wilted, about 15 minutes.
Salt and pepper to taste. (be sure to remove thyme stems and bay leaves before serving)