How did the beginning of November get here so quickly!? Time seems to be racing by as we ramp up to the holidays. So much so in fact, that a whole month barreled through with nary a word from “Toothsome”! So let’s get to it then, shall we?
I hope everyone is well, and that you’ve been able to get outside for at least some of this exquisite fall, to survey the gorgeous colors as well as all those delightful scarecrows scattered around town. I can’t help but feel the tiniest bit entitled to this weather (guilty grin) given what we’ve all endured in recent months, from national turmoil and turbulence to the you-know-what that crashed our spring and doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave—like the worst unwanted house guest we’ve ever gotten stuck with.
Does anyone feel like this tired, worn out script needs flipping? I submit we turn off the television, shut down the laptop, and head to the kitchen to whip up something really yummy that, first, will make the people in our houses very happy and, second, might result in the much-needed reassurance that everything is going to be okay after all—even if only for the dinner hour.
Late last month, I leaned into that time of year food magazines term “the season of big-batch cooking,” which is foodie parlance for “making a lot extra for later in the week.” It is categorically my favorite kind of cooking, taking up an entire afternoon, but yielding the covetable prize of my not having to cook at least one, sometimes two, additional weeknight dinners.
We are talking about a food group all its own, one I challenge anyone not to swoon, or rush to the table for—comfort food! And as the ever-chillier nights draw in, it is unequivocally the only food I crave or think about (except for chocolate).
That said, it is a veritable feat, requiring nothing short of a miracle to get a three-hour pot roast and potatoes hauled out on a Wednesday evening. I’ve tried! Attempting this endeavor in my house always leaves everyone hangrily clamoring, “Will dinner ever be ready!??”, and not sitting down to finally eat until we are all in our pajamas and headed to bed directly after the table is cleared.
Enter ratatouille! For me, the spirit and point of cooking is to bring people togethe—family, friends, or best of all, both—and that is exactly what ratatouille does. This French vegetable stew, taking its origins from the 18th century Provencal region of Nice, has been loved by my family since before the kids were even able to pronounce it (shout out Pixar). Tasting deceptively like an all-day braise, it really only takes about an hour once everything is sliced and diced, from start to finish. So, potentially you could do the chopping task on one afternoon as time permits, and throw it all together to simmer the next evening! It’s a lively dish that looks like a vegetal fete (see what I did there?), and as such, it inspires joy, gusto and celebration in the eater.
So, don’t be alarmed if you suddenly feel the urge to dance when you take that first bite. Make it for your next big gathering (adhering to current health guidelines, of course) and see what I mean!
This recipe makes a huge amount, and is crazy delicious right off the stove, but also improves and intensifies when stored in the fridge for a couple days (hello leftovers!!). It melts into a beautifully complex and tangy (thank you balsamic vinegar) rustic stew-cum-sauce, thick with vegetables, and partners dreamily with pasta or rice, but also dazzles when served alongside a piece of grilled fish, beef or pork.
Eggplant, bell peppers, yellow and green squashes (though this late in the game, maybe a more seasonal variety), jalapeno or serrano pepper, mushrooms, onion, garlic...kitchen sink. Pretty much whatever you have on hand. Throw it all into a big stockpot, sautee everything in a hefty glug of olive oil for a few minutes, add the tomatoes and spices.
Then, as the pot gently simmers away, sit down, relax and stare into the middle distance knowing you are “killing it” by cooking multiple meals in one go. Oh, and the aroma in your home as all this goes down? An intoxicating, heavy bouquet of savory scrumptiousness—a culinary mic-drop, as it were.
And so, here we are seven months hence from lockdown, peeking out from our bunkers as we tiptoe cautiously back into the world, and hoping we won’t, but knowing we probably will, be heading back inside for another round this winter. Yet still, I can’t help thinking on nights when we all sit down to eat something so deliciously curative to the spirit, and nourishing to the soul that everything really is going to be okay. Even if only for the dinner hour.
This recipe comes from a beloved little restaurant in Atlanta, way back in the mists of time, called The Flying Biscuit. The first time my husband and I had dinner there, it was a coup de foudre (I couldn’t resist one more!) for me the moment the server brought out a plateful of this very ratatouille, piled high with pasta, buffalo mozzarella and basil for the table next to ours. An erstwhile unique bakery-café, it, sadly, went the way of corporate franchise and, for my crew anyway, lost the magic it had so perfectly captured in everything it served. Upshot: I bought the cookbook that the chef, April Moon, had written just before they blew up the restaurant! (Fist pump!)
Keep well, and keep on cooking.
•1/2 cup olive oil
•4 cloves garlic -- minced
•8 ounces button mushrooms -- finely sliced
•1 small yellow onion -- diced
•1 red bell pepper -- diced
•1 green bell pepper -- diced
•1 zucchini -- diced
•1 yellow squash -- diced
•1 small eggplant -- diced
•1/4 cup capers
•1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes -- roughly chopped
•1/4 cup kalamata olives -- pitted and chopped
•1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper -- freshly ground
•1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
•2 teaspoons kosher salt
•2 teaspoons dried basil
•1 teaspoon dried oregano
•1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
•1 can Roma tomatoes with juice (28 oz.)
•1/2 cup red wine
•1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
•1 pound penne pasta
•fresh basil -- shredded
Heat olive oil in heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, mushrooms, onion, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant. Saute' until veggies are soft and onions are translucent. The veggies should just begin to brown.
Stir in the capers, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and spices. Crush the tomatoes with a potato masher and add, juice and all, to the pot. Add red wine and balsamic vinegar, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for one hour to allow the flavor to develop fully.
Cook penne in boiling water until al dente. Drain pasta and mix with ratatouille.
Serve topped with shredded basil leaves.