The sun finally came out of hiding this past week. It warmed into the 80’s, a heart-stopping heat wave that suggested our eternal winter was finally over. (Be still, my heart!)
Meanwhile, the rest of the US swelters, or is underwater with flooding, so I can’t complain about our conditions. Still, I feel as if I have been living in a dark tunnel for the past several months and am blinded by the light. What I know, is that the sun rejuvenates me and turns my life up several notches. I’m happier and life’s simplest pleasures take on new meaning.
And so it was, when I noticed the shiny purple orbs at the market recently. Likely, I have brushed up against eggplant this season, but merely skipped over them, unimpressed and undaunted. Suddenly it was as if a spotlight beamed down upon them, showcasing a chorus of come-hither halos. A must-have event.
Later, I dug out my old ratatouille recipe and dusted off the grill. Clearly, the sun had cast its spell on me. Just the process of slicing and dicing the season’s vegetables was enough to make me smile. A quick sear on the grill was all that was needed to infuse them with a slight smokiness and by-pass the tedious olive oil sauté process. Since there was still plenty of fire on the coals I dawdled over grilling a few chicken breasts – no hurry to return indoors.
Back in the kitchen with the cooled veggies and a handful of snipped garden herbs, I layered the veggies into a heavy pot. A gentle simmer on the back of the stove was all it took to create magic. The results: a transformation from the jumble of summer vegetables into a velvety mélange, an elegant reminder of all that is possible. If I pay attention.
A great summer accompaniment to grilled meats or fish. The preliminary grilling precooks the veggies and adds a smoky dimension. For a make ahead addition, consider a tangy tabouli with bulgur wheat. Inspired by Judy Zeidler's The Gourmet Jewish Cook.
1 medium eggplant, ¾” slices
2 medium zucchini, ½” lengthwise, thick slices
½ red onion, ½” thick round slices
1 whole red pepper
1 whole green pepper, preferably poblano
3-4 medium tomatoes, medium dice
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. mixed herbs: thyme, savory, marjoram, chop
coarse salt and pepper
Tabasco to taste
Spray the eggplant on both sides and place the slices on a very hot grill. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and turn when well marked. Proceed in same fashion with the zucchini, peppers, and onion. Remove each when marked on both sides; place the peppers in a plastic bag and seal to allow skins to loosen. Allow the vegetables to cool and cut into square chunks. Seed, peel the peppers and do the same.
In a heavy pot over medium heat, add about 2 tsp. olive oil and half of the garlic, cooking until it is fragrant but not brown. Remove the pot from heat and add about 1/3 of the tomatoes and toss lightly. Layer half of the onions on top and sprinkle a little of the mixed herbs along with a bit of salt and pepper. Layer in half of each the eggplant, zucchini, the peppers, and drizzle on a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with more herbs. Add another layer of tomatoes, onions, and then layer the other veggies. Sprinkle with more herbs, and finish with the last of the tomatoes, a bit more salt and pepper, and drizzle the top with a bit more olive oil.
Return the pot to medium heat and when it comes to a low boil, reduce the heat to low. Cover well and lightly simmer. After 10 minutes, gently toss the mixture once or twice and cover. Repeat every 10 minutes or so, for a total of about 40 minutes. Additional liquid will have formed. Remove the lid, add a few shakes of Tabasco and increase the heat to moderate. Bring to a low simmer and reduce the liquid, another 10-15 minutes. The veggies should still hold their shape and be identifiable, but they will be silky and the flavors will meld together. Taste for seasoning and serve hot, room temperature, or cold.