I have been getting many questions recently regarding summer vegetables, and more specifically, those that grow in your average home garden. Tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash eggplant- just to name a few. People are finding that, like an authentic harvest, all of a sudden they have an abundance of ready-to-use vegetables and aren’t quite sure what to do with everything. You can only have so many salads, you can’t live off ripe tomatoes (though I’m sure some of us try), squash pancakes and breads are good, but are also a lot of work, as are canned tomatoes, sauces, etc. Do you give them away? Sure… I guess so…
In restaurants we love to do fancy things, like ‘zucchini linguine’ or ‘squash blossom fritters’ stuffed with ‘squash compote’ and goat cheese (just to name 2 items). Both items are delicious, but do they really highlight the ‘bounty of summer’ or are they seasonal just for the sake of being seasonal?
Many restaurants, and by association, many chefs, are so consumed with seasonal cooking, that they loose the love of authentic and wonderful flavor in their food. Food still needs to be delicious. Being seasonal isn’t THAT important.
If you’re going to make seasonal (and local) food, the goal is to make the ingredients speak for themselves. And, since we’re taking about cooking from our own gardens, local and seasonal are implied.
In my opinion, as a chef and as one who loves food, one of the best ways to feature squashes and tomatoes from your garden is in a peasant style ratatouille. The garden stew. What a masterpiece. They even made a nice little animated movie about it. It’s another dish that screams summer and what a way to feature your produce! It’s easy, full of natural flavor, healthy, vegan, gluten free (for those of you who are into the Beverly Hills trends, or cannot tolerate wheat, barley or rye) and is perfect for those late summer evenings.
Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 2 hours
Makes 8 portions
Ingredients: (use local organic when possible)
1 large zucchini
1 large summer squash
5 tomatoes (skin and seeds removed)
1 cup basil, rough chop
3 sprigs thyme, fine chop
1 large sweet onion
3 cloves garlic
extra virgin olive oil
cracked blacked pepper
Wash the squashes and eggplant. Cut them into 1/2 inch cubes. In a medium heavy bottom sauce pot, Heat 2 tbsp olive oil until rippling but not smoking. Add the squashes and eggplant and season with salt and pepper. When highly fragrant, add the onions. When onions begin to soften, add garlic and tomatoes and 1/2 cup water. Reseason. Add all the herbs, turn heat to low, and cook for about 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally. Consistency should be that of a thick stew.
Drizzle a little more olive oil on top and serve immediately.
I love ratatouille with grilled lamb, grilled shrimp (spicy of course) or grilled white-flesh fish, such as black cod, halibut or loup de mer. It’s wonderful with goat cheese polenta, diced and roast potatoes, or even steamed rice.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with serving it by itself, letting your summer garden do the talking. Whatever you choose, this recipe is a winner.