Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Dinners of Summer

Some days, dinner is devised by the wills and wiles of the stomach, the wristwatch (and sometimes the wallet!). Those days are full of adventure to be sure: they bring about the 4-alarm curries, the occasional cold cereal and ice cream dinners, the ramen noodles and the cheesiest, greasiest pizza from the joint that's still open and delivering at 11PM. Good times, to be sure, and the world of gastronomy today would be without heiarchy if not for the powerful decisions made by our gullets!

But it is the dinners determined by the height and even the waning breaths of Summer that I look forward to every year. It's the time when the garden is full of new and constantly changing possibilities every time you step outside, where the farmer's markets are essentially throwing their produce at you and even though the kids are once again ensconced in schoolrooms nobody is quite ready for the warm, golden nights to end. Nights like these lend themselves to simple grilled chicken or fish on the barbie, the first hot soups garnished with giant leaves of basil and of tomato salads varying between the simplest Caprese appetizer to a full-meal vegetarian affair with lentils and chickpeas. It is nights like these, like tonight, where it's okay to pause for a while, and just absorb the atmosphere - and even if that atmosphere has changed to a drizzly grey blanket outside, there is still warmth in your meal. In ratatouille.

Straight from my mother's and my hearts in ingredient components, my garden in provision, and a mixture of both Flickr feeds and a certain Disney film in style, this is a baked ratatouille that is perfect just in the last days of summer - especially if you have access to your own garden's vegetables. Everything but the onion and garlic we used came straight from our garden that morning, and was still warm when I sliced and layered them into the casserole dish. The frozen, leftover dregs from last year's passata formed the perfect base for caramelized onion, white wine and herbs to transform into a rich sauce, and after a long, slow bake in the oven it's finished with a smattering of crumbled chevre and popped under the broiler to brown. Perfect the day it's made (the family ate it over couscous and broiled salmon), my mom also swears by leftovers the next day stirred into a spoonful of chickpeas and stuffed into a pita.

Vive le Jardin Ratatouille
Serves 6 as a side, 4 as a light main
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/3 cup white wine
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
1 cup crushed tomatoes
3 baby eggplants, thinly sliced into rounds
3 large beefsteak tomatoes, thinly sliced into rounds
2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds
1 red bell pepper, carefully cored and thinly sliced into rounds
2 sprigs fresh thyme, de-stemmed
3 1/2 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of a 12" long oval casserole dish and set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook slowly, stirring, until golden brown - about 10 minutes.
  3. Add crushed garlic and cook until just fragrant, then add wine, herbes de Provence and tomatoes, stirring well. Remove from heat and pour into the bottom of the casserole.
  4. Arrange alternating slices of the thinly sliced vegetables in overlapping rings from the outside to the inside of the baking dish.
  5. Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the vegetables and cover with the piece of parchment.
  6. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove parchment and bake a further 15 minutes, topping with goat cheese for last 5 minutes of baking.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 151.5
Total Fat: 6.4 g
Cholesterol: 14.6 mg
Sodium: 237.6 mg
Total Carbs: 18.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.0 g
Protein: 6.0 g


  1. Looks lovely, both before and after. Getting it from your garden is just perfect.

  2. Oh I was going to do a stir-fry this week to use up my veggies but this sounds so much better!

  3. This was amazing. I blogged about it here http://agoodappetite.blogspot.com/2009/09/using-up-veggies-ratatouille.html


Thanks for the feedback!