Thursday, August 25, 2011

Capturing Late Summer: Ratatouille

In late August I always start to panic a bit. Even though I don't have to go back to school, there's a feeling of change and anticipation. I inevitably start thinking about new pencils and folders, about organizing and making goals for what's left of the year.

One Saturday I made nectarine preserves from a bag of $5 fruit purchased from the sale bin at the farmer's market. The round salesman claimed the fruit was there because it was bruised. But when I came home and started cutting out the battered parts there were few, and it cooked up into a gorgeous pink-hued jam.

A week later I was back in the kitchen, using my grandmother's copper pots to make peach preserves. Now, these orange and pink jars line my shelves and I'm almost excited to crack them open on a chilly January day. Next will come petite jars of apple jelly made from a brown paper bag full of Sonoma Gravenstein apples.

Around this period of furious preserving, we received our bi-weekly CSA delivery: greens, tomatoes (big and small), peaches, plums, squash, an eggplant and watermelon. Nearly all of it was fragrant, soft to the touch, ripe and ready to go.

I was torn between two urges: Use it up! All of it! At once! and Save these flavors, preserve them for later, enjoy.

We did a little of both.

Ripe plums were cut, muddled, and shaken with brandy, chartreuse, and lemon juice to make a cocktail called the Sweet Louise. Tomatoes, eggplant, patty pan, baby squash and cilantro were layered into a stoneware baking dish and cooked into a bright and juicy ratatouille.

The recipe was my take on an old favorite. The original recipe called for parsley instead of cilantro, and peppers of various colors. I decided to work with what I had, and found that I actually preferred the cilantro to parsley, and liked the the more delicate flavors and textures of the eggplant, squash and tomatoes.

I served it both warm and at room temperature, with big hunks of toasted Acme walnut bread spread think with goat cheese, and a little wine. Oh la la.

But do what you will. For me, the end of summer is all about preserving: preserving fruits and vegetables, preserving the feeling of long sunny days, preserving the feeling of me -- legs bared, hair wet, light in my eyes, peach juice on my fingers and the pages of my journal -- to keep me warm and satisfied as we move into autumn.

It's a balance, a balance, between Eat it up! All of it! At once, at once! and save, preserve, enjoy.

End of Summer Ratatouille, adapted from Marguerite Marceau Henderson's cookbook Savor the Memories

1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, slivered
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Vegetable Layer
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium eggplant, diced into 1-inch cubes
2 pattypan squash, thinly sliced
2 yellow squash, thinly sliced into round coins
3 large ripe tomatoes coarsely chopped or 1 pint baby tomatoes, cut in half

Topping: fresh chopped cilantro

In a small bowl combine cilantro, red onion, garlic, kosher salt, pepper, and olive oil.

In a medium skillet, heat oil. Saute eggplant until soft, about 2 minutes, stirring often. Transfer eggplant and oil from pan to decorative 4-quart baking dish. Layer vegetables in the order given, spreading a bit of the dressing mix in between each layer. Finish with tomatoes on top. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Before serving, scatter with fresh cilantro. Serves 8.

1 comment:

nicole said...

YES and yes. I will think of you this weekend as I can my masses of blackberry jam ... next summer I think I will do a more low-key, but more diverse, effort. Can't wait for that :)