It’s easy, at this time of year, to get a little too wrapped up in the satisfaction of all that food in the larder.
A basement table full of butternut squash and sweet potatoes, with the pre-frost picking of green tomatoes gently reddening on one corner. The chest freezer full of vegetables, homemade toaster pastries of once seasonal fruits, cherries and currants. The refrigerator crowded with pickles. Even a few white potatoes and beets are still around.
The garden is in and it just feels so…good.
I generally groove on that feeling of smug satisfaction as long as possible. Until one day I wake up and it dawns on me: I better start doing something with all this stuff.
So it was yesterday, when I could hardly get the refrigerator vegetable bin shut, it was so full of stuff we’d picked at the end of the season. There were some small, but tough-skinned eggplant, sweet peppers galore, mushrooms (no, we didn’t grow those) left over from a previous night, a zucchini that–well, let’s just say it was time to use.
And so autumn ratatouille was born.
I’m pretty experienced in a lot of cuisines. Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian and of course, American. But for some reason, I don’t cook a lot in the French style.
It’s the bouquet garni that is usually the deal breaker. I just don’t like to stop everything to fashion a little cheesecloth bag of seasonings. For one thing, that means I have to have and be able to find cheesecloth and a string. For another, it just seems so–fussy.
So I’d managed to get to age ?? (just fill in your age of choice) without ever having made that most quintessentially French vegetable dish.
The recipe I found was fairly vague about vegetables and amounts, so I took that as a sign that this is a flexible dish and I could use whatever was at hand. It did specify that I use butter and cook everything at least a half hour on low in a covered pan on the stovetop.
So in went the mini eggplants and zucchini (both peeled), a medium onion, a couple of sliced carrots, about a cup of sliced mushrooms, one and a half green pepper (seeded and sliced) and a couple cloves of garlic. For good measure, I went out into the garden in the rain and cut a few stalks and leaves of the Swiss chard that’s still growing.
I put everything in except the zucchini and mushrooms, which I sauteed separately first, as per the recipe. As for the bouquet garni–well, you just have to man up and do it. It turned out to be not that big a deal. (It contained parsley and celery leaves, which we were also trying to use up, plus some thyme, black peppercorns and a little sage).
A little salt and a couple of tablespoons of white wine, and 40 minutes later we had a nice pot of buttery smooth vegetables with a little juice underneath for sopping with bread.
It wasn’t much to look at. But what a tasty way to clean out the refrigerator.
Posted by: Roxie