All summer it has not been as hot as it usually is, it has been hot, don’t get me wrong, this being California, but it has rarely been over 100F, which seems paltry compared to our usual 105 or more temperatures. All this to say, I’ve been comfortable with using the stovetop and oven, even though I rarely run the air. Maybe a handful of times a summer when I’ve been cooking or when guests are over. What can I say, I was born in July and have always been a heat and sun seeker. Joel is the opposite and is often miserable in the summer. We switch roles in the winter, he is pleased as punch and I am chronically cold and perched as close as safety allows to the fire.
A good thing is that the garden has been benefitting greatly from this hot but not too hot heat, certain plants do not set fruit in extreme heat, tomatoes and green beans in particular. Our eggplants, the real heat lovers, have just finally begun cranking out their fruits in earnest- some glossy chalk white, some deep rich inky purple, some a delicate violet streaked with white. I planted 4 different varieties this year and they are as beautiful as any flowers to grace our table. I like them many ways, most often just simply sliced, rubbed with olive oil and salt, and broiled till very tender. Other good things are pasta alla Norma, caponata, and baked alla parmigiana. But I always, always, always make ratatouille in August.
My grandmother made ratatouille like clockwork in the summer, seasonal food being one of the only things you could count on in a house that prided itself on its irregularity. It is one of a handful of dishes I can’t make without thinking of her, the smell, the movements of cutting and stirring, the perfume of it that curled around corners and down the street. As a kid, I turned my nose up at it when she would offer, it being soft and mushy and having decidedly integrated vegetables, something that as a child was wholly unacceptable to my tastes. Imagine that different vegetables would dare to touch each other and sully each others flavors. I was one who had to have the gravy in my mashed potatoes fully contained, I would shore up the sides of them like a dam, as to never let any gravy touch the peas or meat or whatever else was on the plate. Of course, thankfully, I’ve since outgrown that phase, and love it when my vegetables touch and mingle and become one- soups, stews, chilis, and ratatouilles, really the best things happen when things relax together, really a “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” situation.
My children seem to not have inherited much of my picky eater gene, they enjoy eating and making ratatouille, although interestingly, they don’t much care for eggplant outside of this dish, neither does my husband (so perhaps try it out even if you think your child- or partner - might refuse). It is a perfect dish for kids to help with, as there’s not anything that must be exact, timed, or measured, and there is a fair bit of stirring, which always seems to be a hit in my house. A fun bonus in recent years has been that we always watch the movie Ratatouille at least the first time we make ratatouille in the summer, it’s become somewhat tradition, even though the portrayed dish in the movie is actually more of a tian. As to what to serve along with, I remember my grandma usually serving it with plain white rice, which is excellent. It is also just perfect with green beans, potatoes, with bread to sop up the precious juices, tossed with pasta, white beans (simple recipe idea below), and I’m sure a thousand other ways too. Don’t be afraid to double the recipe, as it, like other mingled thing and most people, is even better after a good long rest overnight.
slightly adapted from a recipe in The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Don’t fret if you have a little more or less of an ingredient called for- it really is not fussy and will taste just wonderful
a large eggplant, diced
4 tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more to taste
a large onion, diced
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 bunch basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine
a big pinch dried chile flakes
2 medium sweet red peppers, diced (I used 4 Jimmy Nardello peppers)
3 medium zucchini, diced
3 ripe medium tomatoes, diced
sea salt, to taste
If you suspect that your eggplant may be old/bitter, toss the cubes of it with salt and let it sit in a colander in the sink for 20 minutes before squeezing out excess moisture, patting dry and proceeding with the recipe.
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot (I like to use my Dutch oven/cocotte). Add eggplant to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden. Add a bit more oil if the eggplant absorbs all the oil and sticks to the bottom of the pan. Remove the eggplant when done and set aside.
In the same pot, pour in 2 more tbsp olive oil. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, basil bouquet, dried chile flakes, and a bit more salt.
Cook 2-3 minutes, then stir in peppers. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in zucchini. Cook a few more minutes, then stir in tomatoes.
Cook for 10 minutes longer, then stir in eggplant and cook for 10 minutes more, until all the vegetables are soft. Remove the bouquet of basil, pressing on it to extract all its flavors, and adjust the seasoning with salt.
Let sit at least 15 minutes before stirring in a drizzle more evoo and a handful basil leaves, torn into smallish pieces. Serve warm or room temp. Will last up to 5 days in the fridge.
lemony white beans
We have been enjoying these very simple white beans as a side to many summery dishes this week- the large size of the beans and the pop of lemon zest makes them feel extra special. They would also be wonderful as part of an antipasti spread.
a few large scoops giant white beans
extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt
zest of an unwaxed lemon
optional additions- chile flakes, oregano, red wine vinegar or juice from the lemon, slices of roasted red pepper, fresh chopped parsley
Place the white beans in a dish and drizzle over the oil, scatter the salt to taste, and using a fine zester, such as a Microplane, add a layer of lemon zest.