Stir it up
This is the first year I have planted, tended to, and (dare I say) loved a garden. I had no idea what to expect. After two months of continuous care, I now walk over to my sunflower lined plot and a huge smile sweeps across my face along with a feeling of pride and, yes, love, which develops in the pit of my stomach. The smell of bug spray and sun block mixed can stir up this emotion because this is what coats my skin every time. Who knew, I love gardening? What’s even more exciting is everything that is now ripe and ready to eat.
Lately, I concentrate on what to eat and how to cook it. I plan to learn how to can some recipes and save them for winter. But, so far, we have been eating everything as it comes. Last Friday, I walked in from the garden with a large glass bowl overflowing with eggplants, zucchinis, onions, and cherry tomatoes. I asked my husband, Claud, “What should we make?” He looked at me like I was crazy, like there was only one obvious answer, “ratatouille” he said. Daphne, my vegetarian eleven year old daughter said, “eewww, doesn’t that have rats in it?” My son, Jack, said, “No, I think rats make it.” They were both wrong; thanks Hollywood.
“Ratatouille,” I thought… I liked the sound of it. I asked, “What is it?” Claud told me that his mom had a pot of ratatouille on the stove constantly throughout the summer and that is how they ate most of their garden vegetables. Cherry, Claud’s mom is an amazing cook and all of her best dishes are comfort food; which is strange because every time I leave after one of her meals I am uncomfortable and have to unbutton my top pants button. She makes things I never thought I would eat, like fish pie, and jugged hare. So, if Cherry makes ratatouille, I want to learn how to too.
I did a little research and discovered that Ratatouille originated in the Provence area of France. This is where Claud proposed to me, where I have eaten the most amazing meals, (including a four bean soup which I still dream about), and sipped the world’s best wines. This is where Claud and I ate the bull from the bull fight and got terrible stomach aches. We didn’t care: we were in love and in Provence in a town that translates in English to, “Paradise”. This is a place where having stomach aches together is a romantic experience. Provence is the perfect combination of my favorite things: food, wine and love. So, I figured, if ratatouille is from this region, it has to be good.
I found a few different translations of the word ratatouille, but the one I prefer is “stir it up”, which is almost all you have to do to cook this amazing dish…almost. Since last Friday, Claud and I have made a few gigantic pots of this, trying to perfect our recipe. Each time, the smells wafting throughout the house are blissful and bring me back to that time we strolled down the streets of Paradise, swinging hands, along side the sweet smelling cafes.
Claud and I combined different ideas we learned in a few of our favorite cook books along with his mom’s version and added our own twists. I decided yesterday, that ratatouille is my favorite food; better than the four bean soup. The sweetness derived from slowly sautéing each vegetable and layering it to stew in a pot combined with the simplicity of the dish is delightful. It reminds me of when Jack told me a few days ago that a cinnamon roll he devoured tasted like, “angel’s wings”. I think that is a good thing? Well, it is heavenly none the less.
We combined it with a roasted chicken and a loaf of French bread. We discovered that you can feed a family of four for less than $10, if you have most of these veggies in your garden. It probably wouldn’t cost much more if you have to buy them at a Farmer’s Market. And, if there is any ratatouille left, it is even better the following day. In our experience, it is gone after the next day. I was going to look up ways to can it and have some in the winter, but we keep eating it all. So, there is nothing to can. Maybe I won’t learn how to can this year after all.
Ratatouille and Grilled Chicken:
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total: 1 hour 15 minutes
Feeds a family of four with leftover ratatouille
1 whole chicken (ask the butcher to debone it at the store) or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSPHniPsCTw
¼ c. Herbs de Provence
2 Tsp. olive oil
2 cups olive oil, divided
3 medium onions
2 red bell peppers
20 cherry tomatoes
3 medium tomatoes (your choice)
4 cloves garlic
8 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
¼ cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large French baguette
Wash and debone the whole chicken. Deboning the chicken allows it to cook much faster and it’s quick and easy to do. Drizzle two table spoons of olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle the Herbs de Provence all over the chicken. Set the chicken in the fridge.
Chop the zucchinis, eggplants, onions, and bell peppers into large chunks (about half an inch thick). Quarter the medium tomatoes and deseed them. Leave the cherry tomatoes whole. Slice the cloves of garlic. Slide off the leaves from the sprigs of thyme with your thumb and forefinger.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Gently sauté the zucchini (about five minutes). Then, move the zucchini into a stock pot. Gently sauté the onions. Then, move them into the stock pot. Gently sauté the red bell peppers. Then, layer them into the stock pot. You may have to add a bit of olive oil in between these vegetables. Next sauté the tomatoes and garlic until the garlic is slightly clear. Add the water to the garlic and tomatoes. Cook about ten minutes. Pour this mixture over the top of all of the other layered veggies. Pour in any remaining olive oil. Add the thyme leaves and bay leaves. Then, STIR IT UP! Cover and gently simmer for 25 minutes. Uncover and continue to gently simmer for 35 minutes.
While the ratatouille finishes cooking, place the chicken on a preheated grill. Cook until the skin is nicely charred. Then flip over and continue to cook until cooked through. Salt and pepper the ratatouille to taste. Place the French baguette on the grill for five minutes to heat it up. Serve slices of chicken, pour ratatouille over the chicken or on the side, and use the bread to soak up the mouth-watering juices. It is amazingly delicious.
For leftovers, I have poured it over pasta, scrambled eggs, and new potatoes. I have also had it as a side dish with steak. I loved it each way. Yes, I have had all of this since last Friday. I told you it is my new favorite food. Enjoy! Please see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSPHniPsCTw for a video on taking the chicken off of the bone. Have a look at this ratatouille recipe as well: