Summertime is here, with its hot lazy days, faces and bodies glowing like full moons with salty sweat, hair wavy from swimming, the deep sweet smell of melons as you walk through the market. My favorite time of year, I feel like I can breathe again in summer. Easy warmth, less structure to the days, stretching in a seemingly endless and inviting way. Possibilities abound.
In summer more than any other season, I gravitate towards easy, easy meals. It’s hot and I don’t want to spend a bunch of time in the kitchen. Produce here is at it’s peak, pristine and bursting with flavor, requiring very little to dress it up. I rely on a few meals that I can make a big batch of and reinvent through the week by adding a component or two. My line up usually looks like: buddha bowls, a spiced creamy lentil dish with rice, greek salad + dolmas, French style potato salad, Italian style cold pasta salad, and this ratatouille. We usually have these with whatever other little jewels I pick up at the market: any kind of melon or peaches or tomato, sliced and drizzled with a touch of peppery olive oil, flaky salt and pepper- maybe a few leaves of basil too. Fresh bread for the kids and Joel, maybe some sautéed padron peppers too.
I remember as a kid turning up my nose at my grandma’s ratatouille. I especially hated eggplant until last year. Now it’s one of my favorites, silky and sweet, creamy and tender. The key is to cook it well- don’t use tons of oil, it will soak it all up and be a greasy mess; and cook it a generous time to allow it to relax and soften. Eggplant makes a superb “bacon” (marinated with acv, tamari, maple, liquid smoke or smoked paprika) + stuck in a sourdough sandwich with tomato, lettuce, avocado and veg mayo. I love it layered in lasagna, or sliced thin, rubbed with miso and broiled, charred and pureed into hummus or baba ghanoush. This recipe I’ve made so many times (sub coconut or other plain non dairy yogurt) and the flavors are amazing…Ottolenghi is one of my all time favorite chefs for how he celebrates vegetables.
Carmela making the ratatouille…a great recipe for kids to help with
My favorite recipe for ratatouille is this simple one from Alice Waters, a pioneer in championing farmers markets and local, seasonal food with an unfussy, simple approach to cooking. I’ve made it more times than I can count, and also have doubled it most times to have leftovers- it’s excellent cold, too. Freezes well and, like soups, it improves in flavor in the fridge and should keep up to a week. Best served with crusty baguette, simple polenta, or rice to soak up all the amazing juices. We usually enjoy it with a very simple fresh green salad and a simple side of fresh cooked chickpeas or this pot of sage garlic cannelini beans. This time, we did rice, Romano beans, and sweet corn. Since this recipe has very simple ingredients, seek out the freshest and best veggies you can.
I made my first ever youtube video of us cooking the recipe. Sorry for the shaky editing, I’m very much learning, but it was fun to do.
simple ratatouille (slightly adapted from Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food)
1 medium or 2 small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more to taste
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 to 6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 bunch basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine + 6 basil leaves, chopped
optional: fresh thyme, marjoram, or herbes du Provence
1 generous pinch dried chile flakes
2 sweet peppers, any color, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 medium summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 ripe medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice (I used 1 whole tomato + 1 cup mixed variety cherry tomatoes)
Salt to taste
1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (add one first and mix, then taste and add a second if your tastebuds say so)
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add eggplant to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, 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 tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and cook for about 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, basil bouquet, dried chile flakes, and a bit more salt.
Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir in peppers. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in summer squash. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in tomatoes.
Cook for 10 minutes longer, then stir in eggplant and cook for 10 to 15 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.
Stir in the chopped basil leaves, the red wine vinegar, and optionally, more extra virgin olive oil, to taste. Serve warm or cold.